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Since 2000, The Copperfield Review has been known as a leading market for historical fiction. Copperfield was named one of the top sites for new writers by Writer's Digest and it is the winner of the Books and Authors Award for Literary Excellence. We publish historical fiction as well as nonfiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews.

Aces and Eights

By Lyrissa S.C. Sheptak

This drivin’ rain insists on finding refuge in my covered wagon. But my saturation and misery doesn’t seem to bother its conscience. Life in these Black Hills is tough, and these stunted mountains surely live up to their name — especially on a bleak day such as this.  Shadows falling on the evergreens cause them take on a swarthy complexion.  Accented by perpetual mud, rock and timber, this place is on the road to hell.  I actually like Deadwood, however.  I could call it a breath of fresh air, although this cess-pool of humanity is about as filthy as my soul. That’s fine by me, though, I feel right at home here.  And with the likes of people like my pardner Charley Utter and few other fellers of questionable integrity, we manage well enough. But lately I feel that ‘just managin’’ ain’t good enough anymore.  I’m weary.  Let me rephrase that.  I’m utterly exhausted. It’s difficult keeping one eye reconnoitering ahead, while the other is forced to keep vigil over my shoulder. Thank God for whiskey, it numbs the demon that has taken up residence in my soul.  It helps me forget how things have come to this, and it’s why I’m makin’ my way to the No. 10 saloon.

* * * * *

Well, if it isn’t Wild Bill Hickok.  Sit down and join in.”

It’s my old pal, Captain Massie, speakin’ to me as he stacks his poker chips.  But that thorn-in-my-side bastard, Charles Rich, is at the table as well. Man that feller’s a piece of shit.  He caused me all that trouble in the Gold Room back in Cheyenne. I feel like taking him outside and givin’ his ass a good whoopin’.  But not today, I didn’t sleep well again. It’s those damn dreams, they wear me out.  I’m tired and don’t have much fight in me today. Rich don’t know how lucky he is.

“Rich,” I nod at him. “How ‘bout you changin’ round with me.”  Everybody knows I prefer to sit with my back to the wall.

“No chance, Bill.  I quite like it here.  Besides, no one’s gonna kill you.  Yer too superstitious anyways. Take a seat and join the game already — yer holdin’ it up.”

I mull over his words and shake my head.  Too many people in this world hate me.  Too many more want to see me dead.

“Bill!” It comes sharply, “Either yer in or yer out.”

“Fine,” and I sit down in the open chair and note the distance from my seat to the nearest door.  It feels like a snake is slitherin’ up my spine. I don’t remember the last time I left my back so vulnerable.

“Atta boy, Bill!” Massie declares, “Let’s play cards.”

“Nope.  I cain’t do this.” I stand up just as fast as I sat down.  “I cain’t sit like this,” and I kick my chair out as I stretch to my full height.  And as I tower over them, and pull back my suit jacket to expose my weapons, I notice their silent acquiescence.  Massie’s eyes linger on my guns, but Rich’s do not.  He pretends to study his cards. My weapons are my closest allies, always ready and standing at attention.  I wear them butt-forward in open-topped holsters because it makes for faster hands when I draw them underhanded and spin them forward.

“Rich.  Move it.  Change round,” I growl again.

Rich’s eyes slowly lift from his cards to meet mine dead on.  I notice they take on an ornery glow. “Well Bill, it’s like this…not gonna do it.  But yer welcome to sit over there.” With his oversized chin he points across the table. “You’ll be facing the main door like you prefer, you’ll just have this here smaller door at your back. But I ain’t gonna move. Besides, you’ve got me, Massie, and Mann to protect yah.” His laugh is shrill.

“I don’t need no protecting from girls like you. But fair enough, I’ll sit where you want.  I ain’t afraid of nothin’.” But in my mind it ain’t much of an improvement and I still feel uneasy.

“Good, good.  Everyone’s happy then,” Mann says trying to diffuse the tension.  He deals the cards, tossing them out easy, and the jokes and stories come out the same way.  It only takes a couple of rounds to figure out that it’s not much of a game.  Uneventful. No one really has money to play with.  But nobody has anywhere else to go.  So I give my mind full dominion to wander.

It wanders straight to Agnes and a wave of loneliness washes over me. Then that loneliness is quickly chased by a pang of humility.  I was supposed to come to Deadwood to get a stake in the gold fever and move us into a life of less dangerous pursuits.  I didn’t have much money to work with, so I thought I’d gamble a bit to better our chances.  But when things are left to chance, it’s just that, and nothing more. Gone all this time and nothing to show for it, and still she loves me.  I don’t feel worthy of such a love, but I’m deeply grateful for it all the same. Contrary to what some may say, I’m true to her, and it’s easy to stay true to her; but there certainly was a time when I moseyed from one filly to the next.

But I’m married now…and older. Here in Deadwood, I feel like a piece of just that – dead wood.  I’m strained, weathered, and exhausted from always having to stay one step ahead.  Springs in my holsters, guns under my pillow, crumpled paper ‘round my bed, always sittin’ with my back against the wall.  Always. If it weren’t for these tricks to keep me on the alert, I’d have been killed years ago either by a no good coward, or my sleep depravity. All my so-called friends say I’m superstitious. But I like to think of myself as a survivor. I always seem to find a way to be the one still standing after the smoke vanishes from the shot.  But at 39, I’m feeling it. I may very well be the oldest gunfighter around.  Gunfighter, mind you, not gunman.  There’s a big difference.  Us gunfighters follow a code. That code defines and sets us apart.  Gunmen are just nasty bastards.  They have no rules, and they’re a rotten kind of human who kill out of rage and revenge. They’re fueled by fear and hatred.

It’s funny, though. I’ve never feared the bullet. It means nothing to me. Like I always say, what’s to fear if you don’t actually believe the bullet can do harm? I never understood why people run wild when shots are fired.  Hell, I can stand in a middle of a battlefield, drink my tar, and watch the display. No bullet ever scared me.  Bullets are faster than people, and it’s worse to get a shot in the back while running away (even to safety) than it is getting struck from facing it head on.  The only fear I hold within is that I won’t die in a fair fight.  I don’t want to die from a silver bullet in my back, because then, what was all this for?  And that’s why I’m so tired.  I’m always watchin’ out for all the people who lurk in the darkness and want to shoot me from nooks and crannies. They’re predators. Oftentimes I feel like I’m being hunted.

The other day I said to Charley, “Charley, I feel this is going to be my last camp, and I won’t leave it alive.”  I meant it.  Dead in Deadwood — I really felt it settlin’ in my bones.  Utter just laughed though, thinkin’ I was joshin’ him.  But I wasn’t.  I don’t want to die with my boots on.  But he’s never known what it’s like to be me. A legend. My life has been full.  I treat each of my stints as Pony Express rider, army scout, Union spy, lawman and gunfighter as a badge of honor.

But lately, I just want to get lost in the mess. It’s nice just be a regular man – driftin’, gamblin’, drinkin’. Free.  Nothin’ better.  Especially now. Here in Deadwood, I can almost forget that I’m a legend.  But it’s the others who keep reminding me what I am.  Nobody forgets. Nobody. So I’m left exhausted, and perpetually sore from taking my fair share of tumbles, cuts, shots, you name it. This old body is full of scars. And I’ve gambled away a little too much money too. Don’t tell Agnes.  But it’s brought me to the verge of vagrancy.

“Bill! Wakey, wakey.  Are you in the game or dreaming about your latest screw?” That’s Rich again, of course.

“I don’t know fellers.  Maybe I’ll throw in the cards and head out.  My mind’s just not in the game today.”

“Aw, don’t bother.  If you’re not too spry, why, it’s better for the all of us!” Massie laughs at his own joke and passes up a crooked smile.

He’s actually not a bad guy, so I shrug and say, “Alright then, I’ll stay.”

Mann, a fan of mine, puts on a silly grin and asks me, “Hey Bill, what are you carryin’ on your hip now that you got rid of your two smooth ladies – I sure would have loved to caress your ivory handle Colt .45s.”

Rich pipes in, “Do you shoot like shit now, Bill?”

“They’re Smith and Wessons, but they do the trick just fine, Rich, thank-you very much. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m the talent.  Not the gun.” I peel one out of the holster, do a few tricks and ‘Curly Bills’, and everyone around the table looks impressed. Except for Rich.

He’s an ass and makes my blood boil. I glare at him hard enough so he understands that he’s only one more smart-mouthed comment away from me taking this here gun, holdin’ it against his head and pullin’ the trigger. It’s common knowledge that when I hit hard times not long ago, I had to give up my ivory handle colts to pay back a debt. It was the hardest, most humiliating, thing I ever had to do.  Giving up the most accurate, sharp-shootin’ guns that were ever made feels much like taking a bowie knife, slitting open your stomach and waiting to die.  It made me almost sick to my stomach when I walked away from those guns, because when I left them behind, I felt like I’d never be safe again.  The bullets flew out of those barrels with deadly accuracy. In fact, I can no longer get a proper night’s rest because I fear that one day I’ll awake from a slumber only to find those fancy Colts pointed down the bridge of my own nose by someone who wants to take his revenge. But so far so good. I’m still alive.

You see, it’s the fastest draw that always wins.  I’m fast and a crack shot, even on a bad day. Prince of Pistoleers, they call me. Like I say, kill them before they hit the ground.  Then they can’t shoot you in the back when you’re walking away. But there is such thing as being too fast, and I know that feeling all too well.  And my actions have haunted me since.  It’s hard to live with some sins. And yet I’m called a legend. Where does my plight take me when I’m such a hero?  There’s nowhere else to go but down, I suppose.  And I’m not ready for goin’ so low as six feet under. So what’s next?

“Wakey, wakey, Bill.” Rich flicks my hat and laughs.

“Aw don’t worry about Rich, Bill. Keep doin’ what yer doin’.  Yer makin’ me a wealthy man today.  Remind me to buy a round of drinks in celebration.”  That’s Massie shakin’ me up again.

And I realize that it’s not so bad to be playing cards with this rag tag bunch of mess-ups.  And it certainly hasn’t made a difference where I sit.  And for a fleeting moment, I feel comfortably numb.  Right now I’ve got my friends, a game goin’, and some smooth whiskey.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but as for today, it’s treating me well enough.

“Damn you! Take that!”

Everyone is startled and I try to turn around and see who’s yelling.  But all of a sudden, quick as lightnin’, I have a terrible pain in my head and it rips through my jaw.  I’ve never felt anything like it before, and it feels like my jaw is being sliced apart.  I cain’t understand what’s happening to me, and I certainly cain’t concentrate. My thoughts are scattered and the pain is searing. Then something flashes and the chaos gives way to a flood of memories. I cain’t control the speed in which they come.

First, I’m on the wide open plains where Buffalo Bill and I raced our ponies.  Then, I’m in Abilene, walking down the promenade proud and shining up my new Marshall’s badge.  Next, I’m target shootin’ with my brand new ivory handle colts.  Perfect shot every time. No surprise. Finally, there’s Agnes when I last kissed her. She’s wearing a worried smile. Then the memories stop so violently that it almost trips me up.  My mind goes completely blank.  And try as I may, I can’t see anything but blackness — as if I’m lost in the smoke of a freshly shot gun. So not to panic, I stay calm and still until this haze lifts. Damn, what was in this whiskey?

As the smoke lifts I notice a scuffle, and some feller, practically a kid, is screamin’ over and over again, “Damn you! Take that!” Why is no one shuttin’ him up? Maybe I should do it.  I reach for the butt of my gun to give him a good smack up top his head, but I’m unable to grasp it.  Then upon closer look, I realize that I am very detached from things, as if I have an eagle’s vision from up high in the sky. What kind of whiskey was a drinkin’ — Turpentine?

“What’s goin’ on?” I holler as deep and as powerfully as I can.  But no one hears me.  The screamer tears out of the saloon leaving the others to lock-up hastily and tend to something on the ground.  Everyone’s crowding over that somethin’. But as Mann pulls away, sure as shit, there’s been a killin’.  I hope they don’t credit this one on me.  My numbers are based solely on the killings I’ve done with my own guns, lookin’ my enemy straight in the eye.

There’s deep red blood pooling around the poor feller’s head. The bullet went in the back of the head and exited out of the front cheek and jaw, ripping apart the face leaving not much behind to identify the victim. Who got shot?  I do a quick count – Mann’s there, Massie, Rich, Young. I wrack my brain trying to remember who else was in the No. 10.  But today I was so lost in my thoughts that I never paid no heed. I notice my coveted hat on the floor.  Damn.  My jacket too. Realization hits me with the ferocity of a wielded axe.

It’s me. The dead man on the ground is me.

The others fall silent and stare at my body crumpled on the ground. And I must say, I look disturbingly pathetic. My biggest fear has come true.  I was shot in the back of the head; I died with my boots on. It terrifies and saddens me at the same time. God damn. What a humbling end to a life that was lived so large. It’s left me with a sudden and overwhelming urge to weep.

The men shuffle around my body, not knowin’ what to do.  Someone mumbles how angry Charley’s gonna be when he finds out. No shit, I tell myself. Charley’s gonna raise hell when he finds out. Everyone is stunned silent, almost afraid of the reality of what just happened. But it’s that damn weasel, Rich, who pipes up, “Well, well.  If it ain’t for judge Colt and his jury of six.  But in this case, all it took was only one well-placed shot.”

“Wait till Charley gets his hands on you! You’ll have hell to pay for sayin’ that!” The others have to hold Young back as he leaps forward to attack Rich.  “You’re insensitive.”

I notice an unsettled Rich take a shot of whiskey, scratch his head, and ponder out loud, “Maybe I shoulda given him my seat.”

Silence falls over everyone.  Dare I say they’re ‘deathly still’? Just like walking among the dead on a battlefield. They wear looks of dread and confusion, while I, for once, feel none of it. And I’m surprised that I like this feelin’. I’m free from bondage. My soul feels absolved. My burdens don’t suffocate me anymore.

An emotional Young croaks out, “Look at his cards — aces and eights.”

With his sleeve, Rich wipes the whiskey from his mouth and responds, “I’m not normally superstitious, but I think I could start now.” Staring at my cards scattered on the table, then staring at me, he downs another stiff shot and declares, “Those there aces and eights, fellers, is what I call a dead man’s hand.”

But I beg to differ. Those aces and eights aren’t the sign of a dead man, for I’m no longer held ransom by this world. Those aces and eights have become a surprisingly welcome banner of surrender. My white flag is hoisted, and now I’m gladly waving it. For once I can finally rest in peace.

______________________________________________________________

Lyrissa S.C. Sheptak resides in Alberta, Canada where, when she isn’t taking care of the needs of her family of six, she’s writing non-fiction and fiction. As well, she’s the Assistant Editor for Nasha Doroha magazine.  Lyrissa spent her youth wandering North America’s forts, historical parks, and battlefields.  Those experiences not only heightened her imagination, but influenced her future. She attended Yale University and received her MA in 19th century American Frontier Military History.  Lyrissa is an historian who comes from a storytelling lineage, and this passion compels her to bring history alive.

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Mad Hatters and Glow Girls

By Kitta MacPherson

Father was talking to Mother about Thomas Edison again.

“Wearing a suit so wrinkled it looked like he slept in it. Going so fast he was almost running,” said Father.  “Would you believe the man walks to his own factory?”

I was upstairs, dressing for school, but my room sat near the back stairs leading to the kitchen. Words floated up. Most mornings, patches of conversation, warmed by the kitchen, would soar and hang there. Father was riding the trolley, heading to Dr. Barclay’s, he said. It was just luck. He looked up from his newspaper and out the window for a second and spied “Old Tom,” as he put it – the inventor’s pin straight salt and pepper hair flapping in the wind. Mr. Edison popped out of the lush, forested entrance to Llewellyn Park where he lived in his pink mansion, Glenmont, and jaywalked across Main Street. I could hear the warm murmur of Mother’s acclamation of his story. Mother’s blue tea kettle whistled. Her left hand would be stowed softly on Father’s right shoulder as I imagined her pouring the steaming liquid into one of her treasured Belleek china pieces. As I pulled on my shoes, a cup and saucer rattled loudly.

“Ah!” I heard Father cry out.

“Your trousers,” Mother scolded.

This was the year 1919 and we lived in Orange, New Jersey. With 34 factories devoted solely to the making of hats, Orange had earned its nickname as the “Hat Capital” of the country. There were many other factories here. Our fathers and brothers, and some of our mothers and sisters, made a lot of other goods, like beer and furniture. The father of my friend, Virginia, worked in the Colgate factory and made vats of toothpaste all day. We were about a mile from Mr. Edison’s “idea factory” – that’s what the paper called it – in downtown West Orange where he was trying out inventions like moving pictures and a “phonograph” – a machine that made music by scratching grooves on wax cylinders.

I rounded the stairs and entered the kitchen, just as Mother was spooning oatmeal into my bowl. The kitchen was cozy. I could never decide whether the comfort I felt there was due to Mother’s cooking or the simple presence of my parents. Father sat, still and silent, behind the fortress of his paper.

“Morning, Father,” I said, going ’round and hugging him from behind.

He smelled of shaving cream. Something close to a smile turned up each end of his mouth.

“Hello, Mother,” I said. I pecked her soft cheek.  I had already pulled up my hair, red like my father’s. Father, like so many of his friends, was a hatter. He had taken a job at the No Name Brand hat factory on Mitchell Street as soon as he graduated Our Lady of the Valley High School. John and Henry Stetson, brothers who owned the factory, fought so much they could never decide on a name for their company. The factory was massive, taking up three city blocks. Hundreds of people worked there. Tophats, fedoras, bowlers, you name it, Father had cut rabbit pelts treated with chemicals and made them out of the felt that resulted. He shaped the soft material, and sized the pieces from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

Hatters made good money, better than almost any other factory job around. Rumors swirled of strange sicknesses afflicting them. You couldn’t speak about it. Our neighbor, Mr. Graham, was fired at Christmas by the L. Birch Hat Manufacturing Company. He had complained that his vision was blurry and that he was having trouble walking. The company said he was a drunk.  I heard Mother whisper to Father that she had never seen Mr. Graham touch a drop of liquor. Lately, Father had developed a case of what he called “the shakes.” He missed work yesterday morning to go see Dr. Barclay up on First Mountain. The physician said that Father needed more fresh air.

“Mairead,” Father said, looking at me over his paper.

He was the only one who called me by my full name. To everyone else, I was “Mae,” which suited me fine.

Father continued: “You won’t believe what has happened to Madame Curie.” Sprouts of white were beginning to show amongst the red spikes of his closely cropped hair. Yet, his strong-boned face bore no wrinkles. He was trying. His deep blue eyes bored into mine, inviting me to join in.

“Please tell me, Father,” I said.

“Our Madame Curie,” he said, has discovered another….Oh!!!”

His sentence broke off as his teacup flew from his hand. The cup spun like a little planet traversing the universe of our kitchen. The swift journey ended with a crash against Mother’s white wood butler’s pantry. Shards of white porcelain rained on the oak floor.

“Dennis Dwyer!” Mother said and froze.

Father stared at his right hand as if it belonged to someone else. He had never looked so startled. Mother firmly tapped my shoulder. “I’ll do it,” she said. “Time for school.”  I gathered my cloak and books and crossed our creaky wooden porch. I raced to the front sidewalk and headed off.

As I walked I studied houses like mine, with gaslights burning and people moving inside. A weak March sun hidden behind clouds barely glowed, casting a grey sheen over the landscape. From behind, I heard someone calling me. “Mae! Mae! Wait up!” I turned and saw Rose Frantangelo racing toward me. She had hiked up her outercoat and her skirt to quicken her pace, revealing her ankles and black stockings. Rose had always been a bit of a scamp.

“Where are you going?” she said as she caught up, huffing.

“School,” I said. Then I remembered that I hadn’t seen her in a while. “Where are you heading?” I asked.

“Work,” Rose announced.

I stopped walking and looked at her. Rose had attended Catholic elementary school with me, a grade behind me. She switched to public school in eighth grade after her mother died from pneumonia. At Mass last year, Father Greg announced that Rose’s brother, Petey, died from the Spanish flu while serving in the U.S. Army at Fort Dix.  Rose was part of a large extended family whose members were from a small village outside Naples, Italy. They had escaped desperate poverty and journeyed to America, settling in Orange. Rose was what my mother would call “a beauty.” She had caramel eyes and thick, dark lashes. When she was in school with me, the boys used to watch her — she had a way of tossing her head so that her wavy golden brown hair would fly out. Now her hair was pinned up like mine. Ashy half moons accented her eyes from below.

“I work at the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation,” she said, proudly enunciating each word of the proper name. “It’s only a few blocks from here. The pay is great. I have friends who work there. You probably know some of the girls. We have so much fun.”

She added, “You ought to come with me some time!”

Rose continued, listing all the girls who worked there.

The decision came fast and out of nowhere.

“Can I go to work with you today?” I said.

Rose screeched and jumped up and down.

“Yes,” she said. She wore a big smile.

 

The standalone dialpainting studio of the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in Orange was housed in a large brick building on the north corner of a large property. We entered and encountered a young lady with a thin, pinched face and sallow complexion, seated at a table facing us. Piles of paper were heaped on the desk, obscuring all but her head and neck. She looked at me with a quizzical expression.

“This is my friend, Mae,” Rose told her. Neither smiled. “She is visiting today. She may want to work here.”

“I guess that’s okay,” the young lady said.

We exited a hallway and entered a huge, sunlit room. The studio paralleled the path of Alden Street and was about the length of half a city block. Tall windows took up most of the walls facing the rest of the factory compound and the city street. Rectangular skylights rained sunbeams down on the workers gathering in the room. Long rows of attached desks arranged horizontally dominated the room. Hundreds of young women were in here. Most were dressed just like me with a long skirt and a white cotton blouse. Some wore what looked like plaid housecoats over their street clothes. We hung our belongings on brass hooks attached to planks, like school. Each girl set up at her own desk and settled in on a wooden, straight-backed chair. I followed Rose to her station, at the end of the second row and sat next to her in a vacant seat.

“So you are sure you really want to learn this?” Rose said.

I nodded affirmatively.

“Don’t be upset if you don’t get it right at first,” she said. “Usually, it takes about two weeks of training. But I know how smart you are – so I’m not really worried.”

I’m not sure how much brains had anything to do with this. Wizard-like deftness of the hands and wrist were more like it. Before me was a metal tray shaped like a cookie sheet. In five rows, 20 deep, I studied my starting material: clock dials on nickel- and dime-sized paper circles with tiny minute and second hands. To my left sat a small bottle, stopped with a cork, containing yellowish powder. A tiny scoop with a handle skinny as a toothpick was nestled close to its side. There also was a white metal tube which someone already had begun to squeeze from the bottom, another small bottle containing a clear liquid, and a slender artist’s brush. A white ceramic mortar and pestle, a close cousin to the set in our kitchen, rounded out the tool collection.

Rose was already getting started. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, so as not to stare. She was all grace and simple quick movements, making the operation look like one continuous dance. She scooped the powder into the pestle, squeezed a dot of white paste and dropped it in, and, with a medicine dropper, extracted a drop of the clear liquid – it smelled acrid – and mixed that in, using the pestle, daintily swirling in three times. What she did next shocked me. She picked up the paintbrush with one hand and, opening her lips, brought the tip of the brush inside, closed her mouth over it, and twirled it, as if it were a lollipop. When she pulled the brush slowly out, it spiraled to a perfect point.

I must have made a sound because she spoke then.

“We call that lippointing,” Rose said. “It’s the only way you can do it.”

She looked at me again and stopped. “This stuff is supposed to be good for you,” she said. She seemed upset. “Some people drink it.”

I didn’t want to put a brush in my mouth and I didn’t see why I had to do it that way. As I moved to start, I could see that Rose was already on her third watchface. I mixed the concoction, dipped the brush in, and then wiped it on the sides so it wouldn’t drip and to sharpen the “point” of the brush. I moved the brush and lightly touched the digit 1 on the first watchface. To my consternation, the paint spread beyond the digit and filled in the area around it, forming a moat.

“You can’t waste it,” Rose said, leaning over and expertly dabbing up the paint on my dial with a wad of cotton she pulled from a drawer. “Just use tiny bits. And don’t hurry. You will pick up speed the more you paint.”

I could feel a breeze from an open window. I detected a faint odor of something burning. The young ladies chatted, forming a soft murmur. One girl spoke to the women in her area about preparations for her sister’s wedding.

I muddled along, doing my best. I had to concentrate and couldn’t dream of talking. Rose was already well into her tray by this point. I was far behind.

Later, as we walked home, Rose looked toward me, through me.

“I think you should sleep over and go to work with me again,” Rose said.

I thought about it. I was full of energy – and purpose .I didn’t want to act as if I had been in school when I had not been there. The Principal’s Office would probably mail a notice if I were out for a few days.

“Let’s send my little sister, Alfie, to your house,” she said. “She can pick up whatever you need and tell your Mother that you are helping us with school work. She can say it’s going to take a long while so you should probably spend the night.”

It was an unusual enough plan – I rarely did sleepovers – that Mother might believe Alfie. And she would like the idea of me working, being useful. I imagined Mother opening the door and, recognizing the girl from church, saying, “Good evening, Alfonsina.”

Rose lived with her family in a second-floor apartment in a two-story brick building. Verdi’s newspaper and candy store, a popular place in that neighborhood, was on the first floor. Daylight still reigned but a giant pink neon sign the shape of an ice cream cone loomed, casting its own kind of white-hot radiance on the front sidewalk. The display occupied a full window in the storefront, one that ran from the ground up to what must have been the inside ceiling.

“People come and just stare at it,” Rose said. She walked on, shaking her head. I guessed she had looked at it enough times for it to lose its charm.

We entered through a cracked wooden side door painted green with a dent in one lower corner, as if someone had kicked it.

Off the main hallway, Rose pointed to a closed door.

“That was Agopito’s room,” she said. “You remember my brother, Petey, right?”

How could I forget a boy with black curly hair and Rose’s caramel eyes? A boy who could outplay most others in street and playground games?  He had been two years ahead of me in school. In our elementary school’s auditorium before the assembled students, he won the spelling bee, besting a mean girl named Mary Margaret Devlin. He had spelled the word “phosphorescent” properly. Miss Devlin had not. Petey told our principal, Sister Amata, right then, he wanted to be a writer. Yes, I remembered Petey.

“Papa says some of us should move in to his room,” Rose said. “We can’t do it.”

Petey – the only son in a family of six children – had lived in the room behind that door until he had left for basic training at Ft. Dix hours away in the Pinelands of southern New Jersey. Rose’s father, Arturo, occupied a second bedroom. The door was closed. “Mama’s clothes and perfume bottles are still in there,” she whispered. As I started to respond, Rose brought her pointer finger to her lips to shush me. Mr. Frantangelo worked as a night watchman at the Budweiser plant in Newark.

“He’ll be waking soon, maybe in another hour or so,” she said.

We passed a bathroom and Rose halted  at the last room at the end of the corridor. Most of the room was taken up with two large beds. Two dressers with mirrors above them had been squeezed against one wall facing the beds. A great wooden wardrobe rose in the far corner of the room.

“We can sleep in the drawing room tonight,” Rose said.

Rose dispatched Alfie on her mission to make the 15-minute walk to collect my belongings from my house and return.

Alfie returned with my clothes – and not much of a story.

“Your mother is very nice,” she said.

Following dinner and dishwashing, I sat with Alfie, working on math problems first, then a geography lesson. Tired, we decided to turn in early. Rose left the room and returned with sheets and blankets. I barely remember what happened next, exhaustion overcame me. I know that we covered the divans with the bedding.  I remember Rose was chatting about the day. I must have fallen asleep, then, with my clothing on.

The click of a doorknob awoke me some hours later as Rose’s father left for work. The room was dark, except for the pinkish effervescence of the sign.  I rolled over to face Rose.

For a moment, I thought there was something wrong with my eyes. Or that maybe I was dreaming. Rose’s hair, her face and the parts of her body I could see above the blanket – her neck and one arm — glowed a ghastly milk-green, bright as neon. I was shaking.  I stood up slowly. My fear made my muscles ache and my body clumsy. I stumbled around the table. I was scared but I wanted to reach her. I patted her head very softly, so I could make sure she was real and hear her breathe. Up close, tiny specks of bright green, like fairy dust, covered her hair and dusted her skin.  She looked like a beautiful monster.

I was crying, but I muffled my sobs. I needed to run. I found my shoes and bag of clothing and slipped out the door. I almost tripped on the stairs going down.  If I ran fast, I knew I could get home soon.  Despite my actions, I hoped Father and Mother were still awake.

______________________________________________________________

 

Kitta MacPherson is an award-winning science writer who has worked in daily newspapers and at Princeton University. She now teaches journalism, ethics, and writing at Rutgers University in New Jersey. During her career in daily newspaper journalism, most of it at The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., she was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on promising new cancer treatments and an examination of a vitamin-enhanced, genetically engineered strain of “golden rice.” She reported on numerous breakthroughs in science, examined the research behind scientific controversies, and explored revolutionary advances in treatments for AIDS, cancer and addiction. MacPherson has won recognition for her work from the National Association of Science Writers, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the New Jersey Press Association.  She holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Non-Fiction from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her short story, “El Balo,” will appear in the May/June issue of Down in the Dirt magazine.

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Mapped Out

By Barbara Ridley

For months, the map of Europe tacked to the wall above the sofa had been largely ignored. The colors had faded, the top edge sagged in the center, and the right lower corner flapped in the breeze. It was like the ugly wallpaper Otto remembered from family holidays in his grandfather’s house in Bavaria; after a while you didn’t notice it even though you walked past it every day.

But now, everything changed. The map became the center of attention.

At the clink of the letter box announcing the arrival of the morning’s Times, Otto jumped up, wanting to be the first to scan the headlines.

“What did I tell you?” he said. “Hitler was just waiting for warmer weather.”

He knew he shouldn’t sound smug. But really – so much for all that nonsense about a quick truce, or the blockade forcing Hitler to his knees.

“Let’s see,” Tomas said, grabbing the newspaper and holding it up close. He walked over to the map.  Armed with a fresh supply of grey pins from the village shop, Tomas had assumed responsibility for meticulously documenting the advance of the Wehrmacht.  

“What’s the latest?” Lena came down the stairs.

“Doesn’t look good. A German division has broken through deeper into France. I’m trying to find St. Quentin.”  Tomas peered through his thick spectacles, scouring the north-eastern corner of France, a pin poised in his right hand.

“How can this be happening so quickly?” Lena stared at the lines and arrows Tomas had sketched. “Norway, Belgium, Holland overrun. Now the French border breached.”

“There it is.” Tomas inserted the pin and wrote today’s date in black ink. He took two steps back to survey the whole picture and shook his head.

“They’ll be in Paris in no time,” Otto said.

“My God,” Lena said turning sharply towards him. “There’s no need to sound so gleeful about it. What about all those friends of ours in Paris? They must be terrified.”

“They should have got out while they could.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying that. You know how hard it was for me to get a visa.”

Otto looked again at the map. It was hard to shake off the image of a rising tide and a shrinking piece of dry land on which they were stranded. He’d fled Berlin, then Prague and Paris. Now this.

“What are we going to do if they cross the Channel?” Lena said, her voice rising. “Will we be able to hide out here in this little village?”

Peter descended the creaky stairs and jumped into the fray. “I don’t want to run anymore,” he said. “I want to stay and fight. Let’s find out if we can sign up for this new Local Defense Volunteers force.”

“That’s just for the English,” Otto said. “They’re not going to let us join.”

“We’ve got to do something,” Peter said. “I can’t stand listening to the news, feeling useless, just waiting for the Nazis to arrive.”

* * * * *

The following day, Peter went up to London to see if the Refugee Council had any update on a Czech regiment forming in England. He had not returned by late afternoon.

“Let’s go down to The Hollow,” Lena said. “Churchill is giving a big speech tonight.  Muriel said we should all listen together.”

Muriel was their sponsor, the wealthy Lady of the Manor – eccentric in her behavior and radical in her political beliefs – and now living in one of her smaller properties at the edge of the village; the Army had requisitioned the Manor House. Muriel was the same age as Lena’s mother but could hardly be more different. She was divorced, for one thing, and openly living with her lover Alistair.

They made their way down the village street, the air filled with the sweet smell of freshly mowed grass. Spring was marching forward with unyielding gaiety, having received no notification to do otherwise; the gardens were being tended in spite of the dismal war news. Lena hadn’t expected to fall in love with this village; she’d followed Otto here three months ago knowing nothing about the place. But now, walking past the hedgerows adorned with ringlets of bluebells, she smiled with joy.

They found Muriel and Alastair sitting on their back terrace, enjoying a cocktail.  The new Prime Minister’s speech was not due for another hour, so they relaxed in the evening warmth with the view of the South Downs. Alistair brought out the gramophone and placed a record on the turntable. The melodic notes of the Pastoral Symphony filled the air, as he served sherry and port.

“Oh lovely,” said Lena, closing her eyes for a moment to take in the music. She inhaled the sweet smell of the surrounding honeysuckle. “I love this piece, especially the last movement; it’s one of my favorites.”

“I suppose it’s still all right to play Beethoven!” Alistair chuckled, handing her a very large glass of sherry. “I hope no one will accuse me of treason.”

“So what’s Churchill going to say?” Otto said.

“Stirring words for the masses, I suppose,” Alistair replied. “Stiff upper lip, all that sort of thing.”

“I can’t believe we’re hanging on that man’s every word.” Muriel sneered. “Has everyone forgotten how reactionary he is?”

“I don’t know much about him,” Lena said.

“He threatened to shoot the miners who went on strike in ’26. He said: Send those rats back down their holes. Dreadful fellow.”

“But we’re a lot better off with him replacing that idiot Chamberlain,” Alistair said. “If they’d listened to Churchill five years ago, we wouldn’t be in the frightful pickle we’re in now.”

“This whole thing is simply beastly,” Muriel said. “Some days I wake up and I just cannot believe we’re going through this again, sending our young men off to fight. We lost so many last time. Those long lists of the dead that came out every week, it was just awful. Three quarters of the men I danced with at my coming-out ball were killed in the trenches in France. One after the other. And that was supposed to be the war to end all wars.”

“But surely you wouldn’t argue that we just lie down and let Hitler walk all over us? We have to fight.” Alistair said. He passed around cheese and crackers and the last of a jar of olives that Muriel had brought back from the South of France before the outbreak of war.

Lena began to feel tipsy from the sherry. “These olives are a treat.” She bit into the firm, salty flesh. “M?l bys to zkusit,” she said, turning to Tomas. “You ought to try one.”

He puckered his lips and shook his head. “Ne, díky.”

Lena laughed. She basked contentedly in the ebb and flow of the dialogue, and the mingling of languages as the conversation glided from English to German to Czech and back to English again. It moved like a symphony, with the wind instruments coming in over there, the violins here; there was debate, there were differences of opinion, but it seemed neither acrimonious nor discordant, just intelligent discourse among friends. She wanted to hold on tight to this moment, feel soothed by the cozy warmth, cling to it as if she were on the edge of a precipice. Churchill came on the radio promising nothing but blood, toil, tears and sweat – but Lena was here with Otto in this green and pleasant land, and she felt oddly happy.

* * * * *

Peter returned late at night, when the village residents were sequestered away behind their blackout curtains. The residents of Oak Tree Cottage stayed awake, waiting. Lena cuddled next to Otto on the sofa, relaxing with a book. Tomas sat at the table, working on flag badges for the Czech Refugee Trust Fund. They were all occupied, yet keeping one ear out for the creak of the door that would herald Peter’s return. The foray of any one of their number out into the wider world was a source of vicarious pleasure for all. They were like eager parents wanting to know every detail of the first day of kindergarten.

But when the door eventually swung open, it was obvious that something was wrong.  Peter looked pale and exhausted, his face drained. He sank onto the sofa, leaned back against the threadbare cushions and closed his eyes.

“What happened?” Lena said. “Peter, what’s the matter?”

“It’s getting nasty out there,” he replied after a moment or two. “Look at this.”

He pulled himself forward and drew from his pocket a rolled up copy of the Daily Mail.  He spread it open and smoothed out the wrinkles. The headline with its menacing, bold black calligraphy screamed: INTERN THE LOT.

“What does this mean?” she said.

Internieren, gefangen nehmen. Intern, imprison.”

“What?”

“All enemy aliens. In case they’re acting as spies for the invaders, ready to welcome parachute troops with open arms. Everyone’s in a panic about a so-called ‘Fifth Column’. As soon as they hear your accent, they think you might be German. A well-dressed elderly woman screamed at me on the train. I had to move to another carriage.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Lena said. “Why would we want to….?”

“This doesn’t apply to us,” Tomas said, trying to read the entire article.  “It’s just enemy aliens. Germans and Austrians.”

“But Otto….” Peter said.

“That’s absurd. He’s been wanted by the Gestapo for years.”

“I’m afraid that’s a subtlety that’s likely to be totally lost on the Daily Mail and its readers,” Peter said.

* * * * *

There was a noticeable shift in the village. Everyone seemed on edge, nervous. In the shop, two women made a point of walking out when Lena entered, as if they were afraid of contamination.  Mrs. Horn remained cordial while collecting the ration coupons, but it was hard to ignore the anti-alien crusade conducted by the tabloids displayed on the shelf behind her.

“It’s hard to believe,” Lena said when she returned. “They used to be so friendly.”

And on Saturday evening, Peter and Tomas set off for The Fox and Hounds for a pint of beer, but returned five minutes later.

“What happened?” Lena said.

“The barman refused to serve us.”

The news from France continued to flood in, terrifying. Tomas traced the Maginot Line onto the map from a diagram in The Times, but it turned out to be more like a sieve than a barricade; Panzer divisions poured through, charging deep into the heart of the country. Lena, Otto and Peter took the bus to Haywards Heath to watch the same ridiculous Charlie Chan picture three times, just to see the Newsreel shown with it. There was something compelling about seeing the images on the screen, always the irrational hope that perhaps the news would be better there than in the newspaper. Instead there was the astounding ability of the announcer, with his upbeat baritone eloquence, to make the evacuation of Dunkirk sound like a military victory. Yes, it was impressive to see the flotilla of small fishing vessels coming to the aid of the British Navy, navigating without lights through the minefields, plucking three hundred thousand soldiers out from Rommel’s reach within three days.

Bloody Marvelous!” declared the tabloids.

“But it’s a full-scale retreat, for Heaven’s sake,” Peter said. “And they’ve left behind all their tanks and artillery and guns.”

Now there was nothing between England and the Wehrmacht except a thin blue line of sea.

* * * * *

Constable Bilson pushed down harder on the pedals and bent forward over the handlebars to get more leverage. Large droplets of perspiration poured down his cheeks and his heart pounded in his chest. The hill seemed steeper than ever in this heat. He should have waited for the cooler part of the day, or better yet put this whole thing off until tomorrow morning.

But the Chief Inspector from Lewes had insisted: he needed a report today. Something about the bigwigs from London, they’d been on to him. Wasn’t right, in Fred Bilson’s opinion.  They should come and do their own dirty work. This was way over his head. Constable Bilson was patriotic enough, and wanted to do his bit to help, of course he did. He had served in the Royal Navy last time, and had been right in the thick of things in the Battle of Jutland, so he knew about fighting a war, knew how to do his part. But they shouldn’t be asking him to do this.

“Just go and look them over,” the Chief Inspector had said. “See if you can find anything suspicious.  Check their papers, that sort of thing.”

It wasn’t that simple. These weren’t just any aliens. They belonged to Mrs. Muriel Calder, and Constable Bilson wasn’t about to pick a quarrel with Mrs. Calder. She had her peculiar ways, mind; there was no getting away from that. There were those who didn’t approve of her at all, what with her getting divorced and all her – ahem –  her gentlemen visitors. All sorts of peculiar visitors, now you mention it, strange London types, odd lot. And yes, a fair share of foreigners. You never really knew who was coming and going, especially now she was down at The Hollow. But she was the Lady of the Manor, and she’d always been good to the villagers. It was Mrs. Calder who built the Nurse’s Cottage opposite the school, and got all the other gentry to chip in, paid for everything, they did; all the Bilson children had received their inoculations there, free of charge. You couldn’t argue with that. No, Mrs. Calder was a good woman; Constable Bilson didn’t want to get into any sort of bother with her.

He finally made it to the top of the hill. There was Oak Tree Cottage a few hundred yards ahead of him. As he was passing the village shop, however, a loud booming greeting startled him.

“Constable Bilson!  Just the fellow I want to see!” Colonel Knowles from Romley Place emerged from the shop. He strode right into the path of the policeman’s bicycle with the confidence of one who knows his orders will always be followed. His portly frame was encased in a tight white suit that had obviously fitted him better when it was originally purchased; the single button of the jacket was straining to cover the protruding belly.

“I say, Constable, what are you fellows going to do about those aliens living right here in our midst?”

“Aliens, Colonel?”

“Don’t be evasive with me, Constable. You know who I’m talking about. Those damn Bolsheviks staying somewhere in this village, in one of the Calder woman’s cottages. I don’t know which of these wretched hovels it is, but I know you do.”

“We’re following all the correct procedures, sir. I can assure you of that.”

“Procedures, my foot! Intern the lot, that’s what they’ve been saying, and I couldn’t agree more. Can’t be too careful about this sort of thing, you know. We’re on our own, now Constable.  Just us and the Empire against Jerry. Mind you, we’re better off this way, if you ask me. We know where we stand. No more damn Allies to pamper. But we have to weed out the Fifth Column, Constable, or they’ll be shooting us in the back when the Germans attack. Haven’t you received instructions to round them up?”

“As matter of fact, sir, I’m on my way there right now. The Chief Inspector has asked for a report this afternoon, so if you will excuse me…”

“Chief Inspector Montgomery? From Lewes? Oh, splendid, splendid. I’ll give him a ring on the telephone. Good day, Constable.”

Bilson now had a sour taste in his mouth and a heavy weight sitting somewhere between his shoulder blades. He approached Oak Tree Cottage and dismounted. He propped his bicycle against the hedge next to the dilapidated wooden gate which was half open. In three short steps he traversed the path to the front door, and knocked loudly, boldly. Just get this over with, he thought. Check their papers and get out of here, tell Montgomery everything is in order. Then finish his paperwork down at the station, and call it a day.

The door was opened by a young woman, not beautiful but quite pretty with bright blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He was taken aback. Of course, there was a girl here too, he had somehow forgotten that, imagined he would be dealing just with men.

“Afternoon, miss.”  He gave a little bow. “Constable Bilson. I need to check your passports and immigration papers, if you don’t mind. Shouldn’t take long. May I come in?”

She opened the door wider and he crossed the threshold, delving into his uniform pocket to retrieve his notebook. “You must be…?”

“Lena Kulkova.”

“Ah, yes. Right you are. All your friends here today are they?”

“Yes, we are in the garden. A moment, please.”

She had a soft lilting accent. She turned to walk through the tiny house to the kitchen and the back door beyond. Constable Bilson looked around the living room. He approached the small table by the window; there was a typewriter, a pile of books. He picked up one from the top of the pile. Hmmm…. It was in foreign. No telling what it was about, of course, but it stood to reason they would have foreign books. Couldn’t be too much harm in that. He turned as he heard voices from the garden.

And that was when he saw it. Tacked up on the wall above the sofa, there in broad daylight. A large map of Europe, with pins and black lines and arrows drawn all over it, numbers and dates, with the 7’s with that funny line through the stem, and other strange names he could not decipher. Code words, no doubt. A stone-cold chill ran right through him.

______________________________________________________________

Barbara Ridley was born in England but has lived in California for over 30 years. After a successful career as a nurse practitioner, she is now focused on creative writing. She has completed a novel set in Europe during WWII. Her creative non-fiction work has appeared in The Clockhouse Review, The East Bay Monthly, the Writers Workshop ReviewStill Crazy and Ars Medica.  She can be followed at www.barbararidley.com

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The Thin End of the Wedge

By Liza Nash Taylor

The Studebaker pulled into the Palm Court of the Jefferson Hotel at half-past seven. The night was sultry, and the Jefferson’s signature pair of alligators swam in lazy circles around the fountain that was the centerpiece of the court. Sleek cars disgorged couples and groups of fashionably dressed young people. Shrieked greetings and shrill laughter rang out, adding to the atmosphere of anticipated gaiety. May’s door was opened by a smiling attendant, and she waited at the foot of the wide steps, pulling on her evening gloves. As Lush conferred with the parking attendant, May scanned the courtyard, hoping to find Elsie. She took Lush’s arm and they stepped inside the ornate lobby with its sweeping twin marble staircases. May’s eyes were drawn upward, by the sparkle of the crystal chandeliers.

A young woman grasped Lush’s arm, pulling him toward her. “Why, Luscious Craig, what a perfectly lovely surprise!” May knew at once who she was. Bitsy Ragsdale was petite and pretty, in a tensely brittle way. From her blunt-cut bob to her jutting elbows, she was made up of angles. The line of her gunmetal satin dress was punctuated by the jut of her hip bones and a silvery fabric band was tied around her forehead in the flapper style. Ignoring May, she patted Lush’s lapel, saying, “What have you been up to?”

“Bitsy. Hello, and hello, Maude,” Lush said, “How are you this evening? You look very nice in that shade of yellow.” His brilliant smile turned, like a spotlight, toward an awkwardly tall young woman, who started, blinked, and squinted, as if its unexpected beam was too bright to bear.

She blushed a blotchy crimson. “Fine thanks, Lush. I mean, I’m fine tonight, and… thank you.” She took a large swallow from her glass.

“This is May Marshall. May, this is Bitsy Ragsdale, and Maude Whitman.”

Taking a deep breath, May said, “I’m pleased to meet you.”

Bitsy frowned, as if she were puzzling something out, then her eyebrows shot up and she raised her glass to her thin lips. She smiled—a smile that progressed no farther than her mouth, and blinked at May over the top of her glass, holding it there long enough for May to notice the large emerald glittering on her left hand. “I’ve heard of you before,” Bitsy said.

Teddy’ Whitman’s older sister had prominent gums and a weak chin. Her stooping posture and squinting, expectant expression seemed to convey, in equal parts, hopefulness and a resigned aura of inadequacy. Maude squinted at May. “Are you dancing in the competition?”

“Yes,” May said, tugging Lush closer, “Lush and I are partners tonight. How about you?”

Maude yanked at the skirt of her dress and her dance card, with its little silk tassel, dangled dejectedly from her wrist. “Teddy will be representing the family.”

“How nice,” May said. “It’s been lovely chatting, really, but Lush, darling, let’s get a drink.”

“Good luck then,” Bitsy said, in a singsong voice, waggling her fingers so that her ring showed. May fluttered her fingers in response and continued to squeeze Lush’s arm as they worked their way through the crowd, into the ballroom.

“Lush darling?” Lush said.

“Well, at least that’s out of the way. I was polite, wasn’t I?”

A pretty girl called from across the lobby, waving her arm above her head. “Hey there, Lush! Save a dance, won’t you?”  May counted five female heads swiveling in their direction, and took in the batting lashes and coy smiles aimed at Lush. She felt a certain proprietary pride, that she, May Marshall, was on the arm of arguably the most handsome man in the place. What was it, she wondered, that particular esteem, that comes from being associated with the popular and attractive? It was certainly what had drawn her to Teddy. He was charming, and lesser mortals seemed to flock around him. May had basked in his glow, and felt a warmth and false sense of security.

She craned her neck in search of Elsie. She was also looking for Teddy, though she had no idea what she would do when she saw him.

Lush gave her arm a pat. “How about a drink?” Around them snatches of conversations whirled like falling leaves:

“Isn’t that…?”

“Yes, I think it must be. Pretty. I’d heard she was.”

“Teddy Whitman…?”

“Yes, expelled.”

“May!” A feminine voice boomed. “So glad you made it!” May’s friend Elsie enveloped her in a bear hug, then, removing her long, gold cigarette holder, she gave Lush an exuberant smacking kiss on the cheek, leaving a vivid crimson lip print. Her distinctive, raspy voice made everything she said sound naughty and enticing. “We just walked in! We’d have been here sooner only I got pinched for speeding on the way, didn’t I Archie? I’ve got a table for us over here. You remember my date, Archie Nelms?” She waved her cigarette and yelled hello to friends who passed by.

Lush whispered, “Do you think there’s anyone she doesn’t know?” Elsie had her arm around a young man, and was telling him a joke, which caused him to roar with laughter and wipe a tear from his eye as he caught his breath. Elsie Curtis was wasn’t strictly a beauty. Instead, she was one of those refreshingly rare young women who think nothing of making a fool of themselves or being the butt of their own joke.

“Now then. May, you sit here next to me so we can catch up.” Elsie stood behind a chair, making broad gestures and dropping ashes on the floor. “Lush, you divine thing, you sit over there across the table so I can look at you. Listen everyone, we’re throwing a party at Mother and Dad’s afterwards, and Cook will make us a big breakfast when we get there. You’ll come, won’t you Lush? We’ll leave for the river in the morning.”

“Only if you promise to play the piano.”

Elsie smiled her wide, slightly buck-toothed smile. “Splendid. Anything you want to hear, as long as it’s ragtime or Jazz. I want to see you two come home with that trophy over there.” She gestured toward a table near the orchestra, which displayed a large silver loving cup and several smaller trophies. “Too bad Archie’s a gimp, or we’d give you a run for your money, wouldn’t we, Arch? Be a darling and get me another packet of smokes, would you?” Archie gamely rose and limped across the floor. Elsie leaned toward May. In her gravelly whisper she said, “Polio. Still, he started on the football team at V.M.I. He’s a jolly fellow even if he is a tad quiet. By the way, old girl, you’re looking awfully svelte. And those cheekbones!” Elsie held May’s chin up. “What I wouldn’t give for those cheekbones. And here I eat nothing but grapefruit and do slimming exercises every day, and I’m still stout.”

The orchestra began playing, and the clumps of young people divided as couples took to the floor. Elsie and Archie remained at the table, with Elsie regaling her guests with anecdotes while Archie looked on in amused admiration. May danced a foxtrot with Lush and a polka with someone else from their table. She was beginning to enjoy herself. She had not seen Maude or Bitsy again. Siphons of soda water and bottles of ginger ale were in constant demand from the harried waiters, as the young men and women brought out flasks of liquor and canning jars of moonshine.. Elsie showed off the silver flask she kept tucked into her garter, and the hollow walking stick she had given Archie. The brass knob at the top twisted off and she poured out a shot of gin. Around them, couples whirled and conversations buzzed as the orchestra played.

The bandleader tapped his baton and announced a break, saying that the contest would begin when they resumed. May continued to scan the ballroom, but did not see Teddy. Maintaining her countenance in a constant pose, she strained for the moment when she and Teddy would lock eyes. She had rehearsed carefree expressions in the mirror. She wanted to be sure she was laughing, or smiling. She wanted him to think she had never cared.

The bandleader read off the rules and the order of events, and thanked the patrons of the contest: Miller and Rhodes Department Store and the E.A. Whitman Tobacco Company. Four couples would dance in each round, then the winners would compete in successive rounds, with the winning couple receiving $50.00 each. When he tapped his baton on the podium, the ballroom became quiet.

Lush led May onto the floor for the first round. The music began. She knew he would lead her without hesitation or error. His effortless grace and good looks made him a pleasure to watch. When the dance finished, they won the round and waited at the sidelines, catching their breath and watching the other groups compete. Bitsy and Teddy won the fourth group.

As May watched them move around the floor she wondered why it was that the girl always paid the price for an indiscretion. The man might be known as a rake, but everyone seemed to laugh that off. The more May thought about it, the more determined she became to win. Teddy spun Bitsy, and when he looked over her shoulder, May caught his eye. He froze for a fraction of an instant, and paled. Bitsy jerked back toward him, a half-beat out of synch.

The contest continued with a polka, then a Charleston. When the bandleader announced that the final dance would be a Tango, a murmur rose from the crowd. There were four couples remaining. The music began, the tempo slowly building and becoming more complex. Lush’s arm was at May’s waist. She knew exactly where Teddy and Bitsy were standing. She locked eyes with Lush and they began. Sweep, turn, halt. The desired facial expression for the Tango was one of intense concentration and fixation on one’s partner. They were playing parts, alternately dominant and submissive, defiant and acquiescing. Sweep, turn, halt. Her skirt swirled around her legs, one beat behind. Lush squeezed her waist. Sweep, rotate, sweep. Their heads turned stiffly in unison and their bodies moved sinuously. The faces in the crowd slid by in a centrifugal blur. Click, click, freeze. Like marionettes. Then the slow, sensuous folding backward. Trust. Melt. HoldBreathe. The crowd erupted in cheers and applause. Lush broke into a grin and pulled her upright and squeezed her hand. They were both flushed and beaming. May did not look toward where Teddy and Bitsy were standing.

After the noise died down, the bandleader thanked the sponsors again, and the crowd hushed as the winners were announced. The third place couple received a gracious round of applause and a small trophy. A flash went off and a reporter from The Richmond Times scribbled their names on his pad. May and Lush were announced in second place. Several seconds passed before the applause began sporadically. The crowd began to hum. Bitsy and Teddy were announced as the grand prize winners, and the applause turned tepid, mixed with an increasing conversational buzz. May’s face remained flushed. Bitsy flashed a triumphant smile at May.

As May and Lush returned to the table with their trophy, Elsie hissed, “That was fixed!” Bitsy and Teddy were holding the large first-place trophy aloft while the photographer snapped their picture. “His father was the sponsor,” Elsie continued, “Y’all danced circles around them! That Tango! Gawd,” Elsie fanned her face. “I told Archie I was holding my breath, it was so steamy. Didn’t I, Archie?”

“Phooey, it doesn’t matter,” May said, fanning her cheeks as she sat down. She caught Lush’s eye across the table and shrugged. He was patting his forehead with his handkerchief.

Elsie leaned toward May, whispering, “Really, old girl, that darling man is mad for you.” She waggled her brows and puffed her cigarette.

“Lush? Oh, go on,” May said. “We’re like brother and sister. And he’s got a new girl every other week.”

“The way he looked at you while you were dancing…” Elsie tapped her ash onto the tablecloth.

“That’s just acting. Besides, I’ve sworn off men.”

Behind them, Maude Whitman was making her way toward their table. She was weaving slightly and clasped each chair back as she passed. She came up behind May’s chair and tapped her on the shoulder. Conversation ceased as May half-turned in her seat, looking up at Maude.

“Tooo bad for you,” Maude made an exaggerated sad face. May blinked slowly, regarding her without expression.

“Let me help you to your table, Maude,” Lush stood.

“No. I dunneed a seat. I’m jesh fine.”

“She’s just squiffy, forget it,” Elsie said. Watching Maude weave, May felt embarrassed for her. Sad, even.

“I don’ wan’ny coffee. Get yershelf shum.” She flapped her hands at Lush. “S’ too bad you losht. You’re not gon’ win hanything in thish town, sishter.”

May’s jaw clenched. She rose to face the taller girl, and white fury came over her like a shield. “Don’t you dare call me that. I’d never want to be your sister.” Maude looked surprised, and swayed, releasing her grip on the chair. She fell backward, and, as if in slow motion, her arm knocked a waiter’s tray, sending glasses and soda siphons crashing to the floor at the same moment the band finished a number. The ballroom became silent, then a collective gasp was audible from the onlookers. Maude sat like a rag doll, blinking up at May, then looked down. She screamed, and held up her hand, which was bleeding onto her yellow dress.

As Maude’s scream died out, May could hear Bitsy, making her way through the throng, calling, “Get out of the way! Idiots!” Teddy seemed to follow reluctantly. Bitsy grabbed a napkin and wrapped it around Maude’s hand, then attempted to help her rise. Maude outweighed her considerably, and Bitsy only succeeded in raising her a few inches before she plopped down again.

Bitsy turned to Teddy. “Teddy, you fool, do something!” Maude clutched her bloody hand and began to keen and rock. Bitsy glared at May. “Look what you’ve done!” she shouted, “You don’t belong here and you never will.” Maude had fainted, and was being hoisted up by a waiter, assisted by a beet-red Teddy. The rest of the ballroom was in a state of suspended animation and the orchestra had not begun a new number.

Elsie pushed back from the table and rose, her hands flat on the table and her cigarette holder clenched in her teeth. Her voice sounded like a growl. “Listen here, Miss Bitsy Ragsdale, she’s worth ten of you, any day, and don’t you forget it.” In a louder voice, Elsie said, “We all know who won that contest.” Bitsy stomped to where Elsie stood and glared up her. Elsie and May exchanged looks, and Elsie lowered her chin and blew a slow stream of smoke into Bitsy’s face. Bitsy’s eyes narrowed and she shoved Elsie, then stood craning forward, hands on her hips, defying her diminutive nickname. Her nostrils flared. Elsie laughed her gravelly laugh and May yanked Bitsy’s headband down over her eyes and returned the shove. Bitsy slipped in the spilled mess and went down like a toy soldier, arms wheeling.

“Teddy!” Bitsy cried, “Help me, right this minute!” There were hoots of laughter from the crowd, and Teddy didn’t seem to know whether to help Bitsy or go after May, but one look at Archie and Lush flanking her made him appear to reconsider.

“Come on, y’all,” Elsie said, “This party is over.” She marched out of the ballroom while Archie hurried to gather her belongings. Two officious-looking desk clerks were beginning to hurry through the ballroom in search of the source of the commotion. Lush took May’s arm and steered her through the buzzing crowd.

In the Palm Court, the alligators continued their laps, oblivious to the drama unfolding inside. The two couples stood on the steps waiting for Elsie’s car to be brought around. May had not spoken. Elsie held her by the arm, and said, “You come on home with me, old girl, and we’ll have some of Dad’s whiskey. Lush, you come, too.”

“Thanks, Elsie,” Lush said. “I have a room booked here, but I think I’ll head home tonight.” He motioned to the parking attendant. “Would you bring my motor around, please, and cancel my room for this evening? The name is Craig.”

“Certainly, Sir,” the valet said, and hurried off.

“But it’s midnight already!” Elsie said.

“I want to go home, too,” May said in a small voice.

“You’re supposed to stay all week,” Elsie smoothed May’s hair.

“I couldn’t take another scene like that.”

Couples were beginning to exit the hotel, and Elsie’s car arrived, followed by Lush’s Studebaker. May hugged her friend and kissed her cheek. “Sure you won’t change your mind?” Elsie asked. “You shouldn’t back down.”

“It’s true, what they said. I don’t belong here.”

You can get along anywhere, gal, don’t you doubt it for a minute.” Elsie gave May another kiss on the cheek and held her by the shoulders. “We sure gave Bitsy the what for, didn’t we? Ha! It’s a damn good thing I made my debut last year. They’d blackball me now, sure as shooting!” She flicked the ash from her cigarette toward the entrance. “Ah, they can all go to hell.”

“Go to hell!” May yelled, and she and Elsie hooted.

______________________________________________________________

Liza Nash Taylor is in her second semester of the MFA program at VCFA. Her work has appeared in Microchondria II, the literary magazine of the Harvard Bookstore, Bluestem Magazine, Rum Punch Press, Ekphrastic: writing and art on art and writing and is scheduled to appear this fall in Gargoyle Magazine. Her short story, Mrs. Walker, won the San Miguel Writer’s Conference Prize for 2016 in Fiction. She is currently revising the manuscript of her first novel, which is historical fiction set in the 1920’s.

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Mrs. Flaherty’s Kitchen

By Zoe Fowler

Mount Morris Park West, New York City, 1908. 

A bundle of pale bronze onions, a bunch of emerald parsley, a brown paper bag spilling bright green peas, two gnarled winter carrots almost as thick as a baby’s arm and, sitting there on a plate as though roosting on a nest of eggs, a large feathered chicken with her broken neck dangling drunkenly to one side of her body. Mrs. Flaherty had not brought these things into her kitchen and, now they were here, she wanted nothing to do with them. 

It was the English girl’s fault. None of the other servants had ever made a fuss about Mrs. Flaherty’s cooking – they had all come and gone and the only one remaining was what slanty-eyed moon-faced Russian wench and Anya couldn’t use the English language well enough to ruffle Mrs. Flaherty’s feathers. There had been one time, Mrs. Flaherty remembered – perhaps six years ago, around the beginning of this new century – when Anya complained about something on her plate. That time, Mrs. Flaherty had put her hands on her hips, looked the girl straight in the eyes, and asked why the Russkis had so much trouble understanding healthy eating when everyone else in the world understood there were few foods as beneficial to the human constitution as the nitrogeneous proteids found in canned pork and beans. Anya had given that slight frown she made when she was struggling to understand the words of God’s own language, and Mrs. Flaherty had concluded her argument with a flourish: if the merits of canned pork and beans had not yet reached the deepest, darkest shores of Russia, she said, perhaps Anya ought to hurry home in person to tell them. After that there had been a six year long period of peace where no-one questioned Mrs. Flaherty’s cooking. Sure, there was work to be done in buying the tins and the packets, and heating up their contents and whatnot, but things had run smoothly until this young English whipper-snapper arrived in the house with her busy mouth and her face like a fallen soufflé. 

First, the girl asked if the boy’s diet might be changed to include food he enjoyed. 

“Enjoy?” said Mrs. Flaherty. “You’re expecting me to break my back slaving over a stove so that a boy who has only just learned to piss in a pot might enjoy his food?”

Susanna stood placidly in the kitchen doorway. “He doesn’t like the food you make,” she said, and Mrs. Flaherty had sniffed loudly. 

“I haven’t the time to be worrying about what that laddy likes when I have a kitchen to run singlehandedly.” She had snatched a dish cloth from the side of the stove and begun swiping at the worktops. When Susanna left the room, Mrs. Flaherty claimed that first victory as her own. 

A few nights later, the sasanach reappeared, asking if Oliver might have something different for his supper. Something different! As though Mrs. Flaherty was running a five star hotel with individualized menus for each and every guest. She folded the corner of the page in her magazine, laid it down beside her chair, drank the last mouthful of her cup of tea and then said, in the slow tone of voice she reserved for idiots, imbeciles and Russians, that the boy needed to be fed bland foods in the evening because they were scientifically proven – scientifically proven, mind – to dampen the animalistic instincts which might otherwise disturb a young boy’s sleep. The governess blushed and murmured that the boy was surely too young for such things, but Mrs. Flaherty continued: had Susanna thought to thank her, she asked, for the moral goodness of the food? For the fact that her careful choices of diet and menu reduced the number of sheets the governess needed to launder each week? Susanna’s damaged right cheek glowed a darker shade of red, and Mrs. Flaherty waited for her to leave the room in embarrassment. But instead, the English girl turned to face Mrs. Flaherty and suggested the cook might want to experiment with foods which not only had scientific benefits but which also tasted good. 

“Am I not having enough work to do without bending over backwards to suit the boy’s every whim?” Mrs. Flaherty raised her voice to a volume which would have frightened a lesser opponent, but Susanna did not flinch. She waited until the cook paused for breath, and then said, quietly, that she did not think the boy should be fed on gruel. 

“Not just gruel! Not any old gruel!” shouted Mrs. Flaherty. She wrenched open the cupboard doors and hurled packet after packet of Graham crackers across the room. The governess did not flinch when a packet skimmed past her left ear and hit the wall behind her. 

“I make Cracker gruel,” shouted Mrs. Flaherty. “Not the kind of stuff you English serve your paupers. First, I carefully moisten the Graham cracker crumbs with freshly boiled water, then I add just a sprinkle of salt. Susanna, even you cannot be ignorant of the nutritious value of Graham crackers.”

Something had frozen in the girl’s face, something hard as ice. “They are tasteless, Mrs. Flaherty,” she said. 

“Tasteless!” Mrs. Flaherty’s heart danced a rapid jig in her chest and she collapsed back in her chair. “Tasteless? But I add margarine when I serve them.” 

In fairness, neither side could claim a clear victory from that particular evening’s skirmish: it took nearly an hour for Mrs. Flaherty to scoop the spilled crackers back into the packets and to sweep up the crumbs, and, in a small act of rebellion while waiting for the next battle to begin, she began to omit the margarine from Oliver’s cracker gruel.

However, Mrs. Flaherty was sure she would win in the long run, and was, therefore, unsurprised when the girl had appeared in her kitchen that morning, apparently willing to concede defeat. 

Susanna had made a cup of tea, added three sugar lumps, stirred it twice and handed it to Mrs. Flaherty before asking, very politely, if she and Oliver might help with the shopping for that day’s groceries. They would be walking through the shops and the local market anyway, said the girl, and their arms were young and strong. Mrs. Flaherty had grunted; thinking. In addition, the girl continued, it might be a useful learning experience for the boy: he could practice his manners and count out the money. Careful to express no enthusiasm, Mrs. Flaherty nodded slightly. Yes, they could help, she agreed, but she would give them a list of what she needed and they should only buy exactly what was on the list. 

Shredded Whole Wheat – one box; Nestle Condensed Milk – two cans; tomato sauce – two cans; Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce – one bottle; one dozen eggs from the man with one eye on the corner of 122nd; a quarter pound of beef suet and two pairs of pig’s trotters from the second butcher shop on the left hand side after the El station; a quart of milk; two packets of Grahams Crackers; three cans of pork and beans and a small bar of Hershey’s Chocolate, which would be for the sole use of Mrs. Flaherty. 

She had written the list in italics, with every i dotted and every t crossed – she would not have an English girl thinking she was unable to read and write! – and yet, here they now were and her kitchen table was piled high with things that should either have been left in someone else’s cellar or in the poultry house where they belonged. 

“I dropped the list,” explained Susanna. 

“While I was chasing dragons,” said the boy.

“And we tried to find it,” said Susanna. 

“I chased it,” said the boy, “but the wind got it and it went under a motor car and came out the other side, but then a horse poo…”

“And we couldn’t get it back,” interrupted Susanna, and demurely lowered her eyes. 

In any war there were many battles, and this did not mean Mrs. Flaherty had lost, but she eyed her kitchen table with suspicion. “What exactly are you expecting me to do with this little lot?” 

“Mrs. Flaherty,” said the governess gently, “perhaps you would like a seat here, by the door, in the breeze. And here, put your feet up on this stool. Why don’t you advise us?”

“You could tell us what to do,” said the boy, “Like a colonel or a big chief… more like a big chief, really. A really big…” 

“Oliver!”

The boy grinned at Susanna’s warning and the governess glared sharply at him before turning back towards Mrs. Flaherty. Her voice was respectful. “Now, Mrs. Flaherty, what would you like us to do first?”

Kate Flaherty had been cooking since she was ten years old. As a child little older than Oliver she had stood at a large pine table, not all that different from the one here, and learned to coax fluted pastry crusts from globs of lard and handfuls of flour. She’d tamed twists of dough with soft childish hands and put them to prove behind a large peat-fuelled stove far trickier to manage than this New York range. Before her breasts began to push like ripened fruit against her apron’s starched white front, she could strip a potato so its bald white body plopped into a pan by her side while the muddied coil of its skin landed neatly in a bucket at her feet. Thirty years and the noise of stripping a potato and dropping its skin into a bucket was the same: only her body had changed. Mrs. Flaherty was no longer a wee slip of a girl. She had grown, she knew, into a fine, fine figure of a woman; a little full around the middle, perhaps, but she had had no complaints. 

Perhaps she would still have been cooking in that big house, midway between her Irish village and the next, if the Earl of Lorcan had not seduced her with soft words, warm hands and beads of whisky-scented sweat among the pantry’s kilner jars and copper pots. She had knelt in the cold confessional and smiled, recalling every detail, and she had refused to show any shame in the face of her parents’ rage and sorrow. Not long afterwards, Lady Lorcan arranged Kate’s passage to America on an old-fashioned sailing ship which bumped westwards towards the New York home of Lady Lorcan’s brother, whose kitchen was slightly smaller than the Earl of Lorcan’s Irish home, and whose hands were slightly colder. 

Kate had always been a quick learner: within six months of setting foot on New York soil, she could fillet each of the types of fish that made their way from the quayside to the kitchen. In a house on Fifth Avenue, she learnt the arts of coaxing soufflés to rise, remoulades to set, and how to introduce a subtle feminine whisper into a consommé Demidoff. She could make a prime rib of beef au jus salute a Choux d’Hamburg with the confidence of a German officer. In a family home on Park Avenue, Kate learned to grind corn and serve it in steaming breads the color of butter, Indian puddings rich with cinnamon and nutmeg, fragrant stuffings which she crammed into trussed chickens, capons, turkeys and strange birds for which she had no names. And the city taught her other things too: she learnt for how long she might return a gentleman’s gaze before allowing her eyes to demurely drop, how lightly her fingers might brush a shop keeper’s hand to secure the best cuts of the meat, how to capture and hold the glances of the men in each house where she worked, and how brightly her smile would need to shine during the interviews for her next job and the next and the next. 

She’d had a fair run of luck, so she had, until a morning six years ago when she had risen to find the world a less rewarding place. Thirty-eight years old and out of work since the night before, and every sign telling her that the times were a-changing: that morning six years ago, she had pulled three gray hairs from her head and the handsome boy selling that day’s copy of the New York Times had flinched when she let her arm brush against his own. The advertisements for cooking positions with families who did not already know the rumors surrounding her name were few. Mrs. Hambleton, already old and dressed in lightly worn widow’s weeds, interviewed Kate in a dining room crammed with furniture. There was a long, awkward pause while Mrs. Hambleton pressed a lace handkerchief lightly to her eyes and explained she lived alone and modestly with her daughter and grandchild. Kate responded with tears of her own and conjured a story about a recently deceased husband and a fall upon hard times. The story and the tears together were enough to gain Mrs. Flaherty the job she had held ever since. No-one called her Kate anymore: it had been time to settle down. 

And it had been an easy life until Susanna appeared: Mrs. Hambleton lived frugally, disliked fancy dishes, and didn’t notice whether food was shop-bought or home-made. There was no longer any need for Mrs. Flaherty to sweat and wrestle over a batch of fresh loaves when bread could be bought for a few pence on Madison Avenue, and she did not need to spend time carefully filleting sides of beef and peeling potatoes when meat could be bought ready minced and vegetables were to be found in tins. The city was a marvellous place, so it was, and she for one intended to make use of each and every one of the modern conveniences designed to save her from unnecessary labor. 

But the vegetables and the chicken, fresh dead, were there now so from her chair by the open door, Mrs. Flaherty taught Oliver to peel potatoes and the girl did a serviceable job at chopping the head from the hen, plucking its feathers, and placing it in a roasting dish. Soon the kitchen was filled with smells which took Mrs. Flaherty back to the houses she had known. 

Because Mrs. Hambleton was not well enough to dine, Mrs. Flaherty, Susanna and Oliver, Anya and her enormous Liverpudlian friend Carrie, ate together at the kitchen table. The chicken was moist, the vegetables well-cooked, and Oliver took great pride in explaining his crucial role in peeling and mashing the potatoes. Although reluctant to admit it to anyone other than herself, there were moments when Mrs. Flaherty enjoyed the meal. The giantess talked easily about her grandmother’s family, who had come to Liverpool from an Irish village not far from where Kate had once lived, and Anya smiled and smiled and did not trouble them all with her attempts at speaking English. The boy cleared his plate and asked for second helpings and, without saying as much, Mrs. Flaherty allowed that Susanna might have gained the upper hand. Just this once, though, just this once. 

______________________________________________________________

Zoe Fowler is a historical sleuth, most frequently found in obscure corners of libraries searching out treasures among the dust and cobwebs. Most recently, she read the directories for New York City for the first 8 years of the twentieth century and a collection of tourist guides published during that era. This all provides detail and flavor to her novel, Frogsbone.

After a career in academia, Zoe is relatively new to fiction writing. She has been published in See the Elephant, attended Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2015, and was recently awarded a scholarship to attend the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing.

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Jetta

By Joyce H. Munro

Music to read by: “Spring Charm” by Adrian von Ziegler

She is walking down the stairs sideways so she can keep her eye on Miss Morris, teetering a step behind. “Let me take your arm,” she says to Miss Morris. Every day she says this and every day Miss Morris protests, “You’ll only hold up the parade.” But the old lady is the one who holds up the parade to look out the window. “Who’s that down there in the rose garden?”

~

The rose garden used to be an ordinary cutting garden. Then, right before their world tour—forty years ago now—Mr. and Miss Morris told the gardeners to dig the whole thing up. They wanted a garden that would inspire awe. A rosarium. Boxwood hedges encasing beds of fragrant teas. Paths that converged at a tall urn raised high on a pedestal. A room to bewitch lovers of nature and lovers of love.

~

She is waiting for Miss Morris to descend another step. They both know it’s the gardener, spraying the roses to keep black spot from marring perfect blooms. Will he cut off the thorns before he brings them in or make her do it? The mistress dislikes pricked fingers. Not that she minds de-thorning roses. This is what she has chosen. For so many reasons. How many girls from Ireland secure a position in Philadelphia on arrival? Especially in an important household like the Morris’s. How many employers reward employees handsomely the longer they serve? How often do two sisters get to work alongside each other these days?

~

But it’s not her sister she wants to be alongside these days. It’s James Joseph O’Neil. He is the real reason she chooses to continue in the Morris household, though she’s never told him anything of the sort. Such a courteous man, is what she thought years ago when he would drive up to the townhouse, doff his cap, and help Mr. and Miss Morris into the touring car. Then he would turn to her standing on the threshold and he would doff his cap again. To her. And she would curtsy and go back inside. Twenty years of doffing and curtsying. They are both so scrupulous, so self-respecting.

~

“Souvenir d’un Ami. Those were the roses he gave me in London,” Miss Morris mouths to the garden. She nods her woolly white head and creeps down another step. She, too, is so scrupulous, so self-respecting. Which is why there’s no use grabbing Miss Morris’s arm, though the risk of her falling down this massive staircase is great, God forbid. And thus they continue their treacherous journey to the dining room, where the table is set for one and chicken à la king is getting cold in the gilt Haviland serving bowl.

~

I regret having to say this: although it is 1930, Miss Morris still refers to her house employees as servants. Perhaps Miss Morris would like to be called, “Your Ladyship.”

~

Quakers have a relatively flat hierarchy, socially and ecclesiastically. They call themselves a Society of Friends, without need of priesthood or lords and ladies. Lest you think all is egalitarian among Friends, consider the Anthony Morris family of Philadelphia. Eighteenth century brewers, nineteenth century manufacturers in iron, twentieth century collectors of artifacts and relics. A first-among-equals Quaker family. Two of their descendants, a brother and sister, have decided to share their extraordinary collection with the public upon their deaths. And now, one of the two is gone. Miss Morris is eighty-one, fond of the 1880s, and nearly friendless. Consider the odds of Miss Morris living beyond the present decade.

~

She is filling the teapot in the basement kitchen when the bell summons her back to the dining room. Miss Morris wants to know if one of the O’Tooles can bring jelly Krimpets from town this afternoon. No more porridge for breakfast, now that it’s warm weather. Maybe some Tasty pies, too. And here’s the rub: though Miss Morris is taking advantage of a privilege, it will not upset the O’Tooles—two of them work at the baking company. So the answer is, “As you wish, Miss Morris.” She will call Nellie, who wraps pies and snacks, and ask her to pull a couple of boxes, get Thomas to drive them out this evening. “And as always,” Miss Morris says, “there’ll be a little extra money for their effort.”

~

She was terrified when she arrived in Philadelphia. Far, far from Galway, the second of her family to come over. What made her think she would favor the big city? Buildings so immense, trolleys swarming every which way, too much pavement, the rudeness, the puzzling accents. And this Quaker family—what a renegade religion they followed. No priests? Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

~

The brother who is gone now, God rest his soul, was a little peculiar, with his curiosities set all about. Swords and helmets, piles of coins, medallions, seeds, photographs, journals, papers. Never has she seen so much to read in a private home. And a pair of spectacles in every room, so forgetful he was. Had the tics and foibles of a person who wants to know everything in precise detail and once he knows, will tell all in precise detail. Curiosities bought with money not easily parted with. Money a Bountiful Providence has graciously provided, Mr. Morris would say.

~

She came to America in search of security. With loyalty imprinted deep in her soul. And she has agreed to render her services until no longer needed. Now only the mistress of the house remains. See the mistress there, in tasseled shawl, being meticulous about something, probably a belonging of an ancestor. “It must be done right. Let me show you. Gently back and forth, never across the grain.” She is secure in this household, bound by a day to day, season by season schedule. Cook, waitress, chambermaid, lady’s maid, and mistress. A band of pilgrims traveling back and forth across the years.

~

Every Ides of March, they break up the townhouse on Pine Street. Cover priceless antiques in cotton sheets, place jewelry in velvet pouches, pack silk undergarments in tissue. And they are off to live in heaven at the end of Meadowbrook Lane, where splendor is a tonic for their souls.

~

She is thirsting for that tonic when they arrive each spring, when Mr. O’Neil opens the car door and offers his hand to Miss Morris. “Welcome home,” he says, and the words are a promise. He comes round and silently takes her hand. Behold him close to her, sturdy and ruddy in his proper suit, clear eyes regarding her. She steps out and there behind him, framed by clouds, is Compton, looking for all the world like her beloved Kylemore Castle. An otherworldly place where chores are not drudgery, where she is weightless. Where she can take off her apron during free hours and amble down the hillside and her hairpins will fall out.

~

It is here, surrounded by the aroma of roses under a milky moon that he will want to ask her to marry him. Every June he wants to ask and every June she wants to say yes. But their wants are never breathed, for scruples constrain them. And sadly, the door of heaven will close again in autumn.

~

Come October, the little band breaks up Compton by the same routine. They return to the townhouse with its ambitious schedule. Pilgrimages to Cedar Grove, opera at the Academy of Music, meetings of Colonial Dames. And in recent years, conferrals with attorneys, dignitaries. Things may be breaking up. But there will always be June and the rose garden.

~

She is standing on the threshold, but she is thinking of the past, of the day she arrived in Philadelphia, of the letters she wrote home about her American dream, the silver she’s polished, table linens pressed, cream teas served in the sunroom, thorns cut from roses. And the chauffeur’s proposal, key to a realm they may never know, pendent between them.

~

Down by Killarney’s green woods we did stray, the moon and the stars they were shining. The moon shone its rays on his locks of golden hair and he swore he’d be my love forever.

~

She is watching Miss Morris take the arm of her gardener down below. They walk among the roses, getting smaller. Her tousled hair a brightness in the verdant room, a visual rhythm, like a signal fading from view. What would life be like without her, God forbid.

~

The gardener waves. It’s time to bring Miss Morris in for a rest.

~

In 1932, Lydia Thompson Morris died at the Compton estate in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, in the presence of her loyal household. And Jetta O’Toole—services rendered for twenty-three years—finally heard Mr. O’Neil breathe words more intoxicating than roses, “Will you marry me?”

~

Having remained in Miss Morris’s employ until her death, they each received an annuity which they pooled together and bought a nice house in Flourtown, and took vacations every now and then. Jetta died in 1958 and Jim in 1965. God rest their souls.

______________________________________________________________

Joyce H. Munro has returned to a first love—creative writing—after a career in college administration. She holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. Her articles on educational leadership and professional development have appeared in academic journals and her books have been published by McGraw-Hill, Dushkin, and ETS. Her creative writing can be found in Crosscurrents, Hamilton Arts & Letters, Boomerlit, As You Were: The Military Review, ArtAscent, Connections, Families, andPerspectives. In 2015, she was awarded first place in the Keffer Writing Contest of Families journal and her short story, “Avoch Bay,” was short-listed for the Galtelli Literary Prize.

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To Gettysburg

By Michael Anthony

Still numb from the explosion that had launched him over the hedgerow, the soldier forced open his bloodied eyelids to find carnage everywhere. Broken bodies, some intact, others less so, littered the landscape like random piles of rags. Men crawled, dragging shattered, useless legs behind them; others stumbled and fell, never to rise again; still more wailed in agony, their cries going unheeded until their voices faded.

Clouds of spent gunpowder hung like gray shrouds over corpses on the hushed battlefield. The evening sky along the western horizon burned an eerie rust, smudged by plumes of black smoke rising from the skeletal remains of smoldering farm buildings.

With nightfall would come the dreaded scavengers who crept through the darkness stripping bodies of money, gold or anything of value; and, when they found one barely alive were known to slay the defenseless warrior. Refusing to meet such an end, the infantry officer tried to push off the damp soil where that last fusillade landed him, but other than his arm, nothing moved, not even his head. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he feared his back was broken.

Unable to feel anything below his chest, he sensed escape would not come by his own hand. But, it was not a severed spinal cord that imprisoned him. Rather, it was the massive roots of a tree upended by the artillery shell that nearly decapitated him. Those tendrils coiled about his head, his body and every extremity like a nest of vipers. The splintered ends of the unearthed roots pierced his flesh, forcing him deeper into the soggy land.

He struggled, managing to free his left arm from the tangle, and searched a small patch of soil from hip to head, but nothing beyond that narrow arc. His pained breathing grew labored as he slipped into the netherworld between life and its cold eternal opposite.

A clap of thunder rolled across the open field and brought a soaking rain that pooled in the soft loam against which his face pressed. Unable to lift his head, the growing puddle threatened as he swallowed the brackish water, choking on bits of wood as well as the taste of blood and dirt and horse manure.

In a rare lucid moment he thought, ‘I did not survive another battle only to drown in inches of water.’ His free hand searched frantically until it found a clump of bog grass from which he pulled a single reed that he pushed between his lips, allowing him to breathe without swallowing that rising poison. Evening dimmed into night and then all was black. Only the infrequent cries of the unseen wounded told him he was still alive. When they stopped he was unsure.

The dawning sun crested the distant tree line and warmed his half-submerged face so he knew he had not yet gone to the other side. The haze of the previous sundown had vanished, replaced by a cloudless crystal blue dome. The unmistakable stench of death blanketed the shallow valley, replacing the acrid smoke of firearms.

Still immobile, he wanted to call out for help. But, doing so might draw any lingering enemy troops who would bayonet him where he lay trapped. The soldier suspected he would soon join the bloated and unburied.

Shadows shortened as the sun climbed the sky and the water seeped back into the ground, leaving his face in a basin of mud. A shaft of sunlight cut through the thick canopy of leaves and lit his face so harshly that his eyes closed of their own will. He shielded them against the unforgiving luminance with his open palm until the earth, of which he soon would be part, rotated ever so slightly in its great orbit around the sun and shifted that beam.

Voices approached; not military, but muted, feminine ones.

He made out the indistinct silhouettes of a woman and a young girl moving from corpse to corpse; draping each fallen soldier’s face with a rectangle of gauze they tore from a larger swatch before cutting brass buttons off uniforms; unfastening leather straps; and, rifling the pockets of the dead.

In ordinary times, such acts would be reprehensible, but the soldier knew these days of the war between the states were anything but ordinary. Local farmers saw their food and livestock commandeered by marauders. With little to sustain themselves, the inhabitants scavenged to survive while watching for snipers or renegade soldiers eager for carnal pleasures, regardless of age or virginity.

The two drew near and the soldier had only seconds to either play possum and let them ransack his uniform or risk having his throat slit if they found him alive.

Their dirt-caked feet now stood mere inches from his face still deep in the mud mixed with his blood and that of others. The older woman knelt and with the deft touch of a betrothed, gently swept a wisp of flaxen hair from his eyes. Her touch was the first he had known since leaving his homestead nineteen months earlier. With the dreadful casualty rate of the 8th Regiment, surviving on the field of battle for so long made him a seasoned veteran; though he saw himself only as lucky, at least until that Howitzer shell shattered the tree to which he was running, the same one that now held him captive.

It took all his resolve not to twitch beneath the woman’s fingers. He felt another hand reach into his pocket. The girl removed coins, a button, a folded letter and the small tin-framed photo of the soldier’s twin brother Elijah, which never left its hallowed place near his heart.

“Please,” he uttered in a voice so faint it was barely audible above the cawing of the ravens perched overhead.

He winced as the woman grabbed his hair in her fist. “This uns alive,” she told the girl.

“Should we do um, mama?”

He knew the girl’s intent and readied himself to join Elijah. His mother would soon mourn two sons lost in this unholy war launched by politicians who sent young men off to die while those same silk-hatted statesmen sipped bourbon in red velvet parlors far removed from the hounds of hell they had unleashed upon the nation.

“No,” the woman sighed, “taint going nowhere twisted like he is. Nother day, vultures be pickin’ his bones. Less go.”

Sounding like a bullfrog at dusk, the soldier croaked, “Please, wait.”

“Mama, he’s sayin sumptin.”

“I hear,” she replied in a conflicted voice while leaning down until her face nearly touched his. “Can’t help you boy. We get caught; I’m dead on the spot. No tellin’ what they’d do to my girl.”

“Tell me true,” the soldier asked, “do ya’ see a way out for me?”

The woman surveyed the immense entanglement of roots and shook her head.

“If I did get free and my legs weren’t dead, could I find a safe place?” he gasped.

She studied his uniform, and then said ruefully, “Might make Gettysburg, but lotta troops ‘tween here and thar.”

“One favor?”

“You in no position to be askin’ favors, boy,” the girl snapped.

“Hush, child,” the woman admonished and then turned back to the soldier, “What’s this wish?”

He had heard the stories of how the gravely wounded, for whom no hope existed, were delivered a merciful end with a precisely placed blade. “I don’t want to go slowly here. Would you help me to the other side? Maybe say a prayer before ya do?”

“Mama, let’s go.” The girl whined while hopping from one dirty foot to the other like she had to relieve herself.

“We can make time,” the woman said. “You Christian?”

“Catholic,” the soldier groaned, “but ain’t worshiped in a while.”

“Don’t take kindly to Cath’lics,” the girl said, then spat on his uniform.

“Rebecca! What we think don’t much matter now. Man’s about to pass and he needs a bit o’ prayin’ to help him through.”

“Much obliged.” Then, the soldier whispered, “When time comes, send your daughter away. Don’t want her see’n any more dyin’ than she already has.”

Even with his demise at hand, the soldier’s concern for her daughter touched the woman’s war-hardened heart. “I will.”

The woman and child recited the Twenty-third Psalm over the entrapped infantryman. Then, she told her daughter to start for the next cluster of bodies, but not stray too far. When the girl was some twenty-five paces away, the woman’s hand slipped inside a leather sack that hung from her soiled gingham apron and emerged holding a sharp-bladed knife caked with blood. “Close your eyes.”

Resigned to his final journey, he pictured his brother on the opposite shore, now intact, made whole by the crossing. The soldier welcomed the fraternal reunion with the twin who followed him into this world by only minutes; and for whom he still grieved, blaming himself for not protecting his brother from a musket round to the neck; and who often appeared in the soldier’s recurring nightmares.

The blade pressed against the jugular vein throbbing beneath the muddied skin of his neck. He looked up at the woman kneeling close to him and muttered, “I forgive you.”

He was weary of seeing men explode into red mists; horses sliced in two by cannon fire; human limbs hanging from trees like macabre decorations; and, watching rows of young boys, none older than eighteen, fall one atop the other as they charged into a hail of bullets that pierced and tore and severed their willowy bodies. So, death no longer frightened him.

Unlike all those he saw collapse into twisted heaps of lifeless muscle and fractured bone, at least he could prepare for his final moment. He recalled his home in Springfield and wished to again experience his mother’s loving embrace, but that damned artillery shell had sealed his fate.

He imprinted the woman’s image on his eyes for it would be the last thing they saw: her unwashed blonde hair a nest uncontained and windblown; high cheekbones above which hazel eyes reflected the golden daylight; a long thin nose that came to a sharp point; narrow lips stretched taut over ivory teeth, not perfect, but all present; and, a strong chiseled jawline. He would remember her, not as his murderer, but as his salvation from a death prolonged if he remained undiscovered or tortuous if found by the enemy.

The crack of gunfire suddenly split the air as bullets whistled overhead. The woman spun to see her child scramble behind the wide trunk of an old oak. “Rebecca! Stay down,” she screamed.

Jumping to her feet, the woman ran to her daughter whom she wrapped in her arms and then crouched low behind that same tree.

Horses’ hooves pounded the wet ground beneath the imprisoned soldier. As they neared, he attempted to gauge the color of the riders’ uniforms. If like his, he might live; if not, he would die by their blade, bullet or boot.

“Grab them!” The soldier heard as the horses were reined to a stop. “Defiling bodies, huh?” The gruff voice of the unseen mounted officer shouted, “Ya’ll know how we deal with your kind.”

“Please sir,” the soldier heard the woman implore, “I beg of you. We were jes tryin’ t’ get back tar farm across dat field.”

“She your daughter?” he demanded.

“Yes,” the woman replied.

“Would make a pleasant diversion for my men,” the officer crowed.

“Please, sir,” the woman beseeched, “I’ll go witcha. Jus’ set the girl free.”

“What do you think men? Want ‘em both?”

Indistinct rumbling followed his mocking question.

“We cannot afford to be slowed. Shoot them,” the officer commanded.

Still unseen and still unsure if the gathered troops were friend or foe, the soldier called out nonetheless. “Wait, sir. Corporal Augustus Winthrop.”

The measured clop-clop of a horse signaled its approach. “Soldier?”

“Sir,” he replied. “That woman and her child were ministering to me when you arrived. Tryin’ to comfort me ‘til I could be freed.”

“Sergeant,” the officer ordered, “deploy your men to free this soldier.”

It took some forty minutes and seven men to cut away the twisted nest of roots that clung to the soldier like an octopus. With a final push they rocked the massive root base while two others slid the soldier from beneath it.

Although large bruises painted his body black and blue and purple, only one leg was broken. His back was a crosshatch of cuts and punctures, some deep, some superficial, all in need of cleaning. Cracked ribs accounted for the pain that stabbed when he breathed; but once again he could move his good leg and arm, feeble as they were.

All the while, the women were held at gunpoint.

The captain knelt alongside the junior officer as he lay on the tree-shadowed ground. “Is the story you told me true or only to save them? Think carefully before you answer, Corporal.”

Winthrop replied without hesitation, “Sir, it is true. Were it not for them, I would be across the River Styx with my brother.”

“Very well. My men will transport you to the field hospital near Round Top.”

“What about the women?” Winthrop asked.

“Based on your word, they are free to go,” the officer replied.

“May I thank them before they depart?”

The captain motioned for the women to be brought forward and as they passed warned, “Take your daughter home and stay off these battlefields. Next time you will not be so fortunate.”

Unnerved, the women neared Winthrop. Now prone atop a blanket with his head propped on a rock, he curled his index finger, drawing the mother close.

“Bless ya, sir,” she whispered. “Why didn’t cha tell ‘em what I was ‘bout to do?”

Winthrop swallowed and replied so only she could hear, “These fields run red with blood. I will not be responsible for even another drop.”

“But I was ‘bout to spill yours,” she sobbed.

The soldier rested his hand on her tear-stained cheek and smiled.

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Michael Anthony is a writer and artist living in New Jersey. He has published fiction, poetry and illustrations in multiple literary journals including The Opiate, SQ Magazine, The Birch Gang Review and Jonah Magazine. The American Labor Museum exhibited Michael’s photojournalism essay on the waning of the textile industry.

 

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From the Journal of Maria Lopez Before Her Deportation to China

By Debbi Stone Cassidy

I remember the day the revolution started for my family. My father, mother, and two younger brothers were resting on our mud-packed porch after our midday meal. Again, we ate corn, black beans and, thanks to our goats, a bit of fresh cheese. We had long forgotten the taste of meat, but we were still among the lucky: we had food and we had our land. It was 1908; we were in the second year of a drought. There were days I believed our small ranchero would be blown away by the ferocious winds that whipped through the state of Chihuahua. We were dry-land farmers, which meant for us that every sunrise was greeted with a prayer for rain.

It was late in the afternoon when I spotted a figure running toward us, waving something over his head. As he came closer, I saw that it was my best friend, Francisco Wong. He was shouting, but he had a smile on his face. I knew he would have entertaining news, always. Francisco’s father had come from China in 1892. He came to work as a railroad laborer, and his mother managed to come a year later when Mexico and China signed a treaty that included a “most favored nation” clause. Francisco was five months old when he arrived in Mexico. Allowing the Chinese to immigrate to Mexico was part of Porfirio Diaz’s plan to modernize. He thought the workers would be docile and knew China would look favorably on his generous offer to give the Chinese work after the US had stopped immigration with the Exclusion Act of 1882. As usual, it was a win-win situation for Diaz. It meant cheap labor, a potential for trade with China and of course, Diaz looked noble in the process.

As Francisco caught his breath, my mother went inside to get a pitcher of cool water. In his hand was an American magazine. My brothers and I crowded around him, waiting for him to share the contents of his treasure. Not only could Francisco read Spanish, he could also read English. His mother, who had been a school teacher in China, was very serious about the education of her children. The Wongs owned a small mercantile store in the pueblo, and the mornings were always taken up with lessons. I was proud to have such a smart friend; at the time I knew very few people who could read. The days when I finished my chores early, Francisco would give me lessons, drawing letters in the dirt or showing me old newspapers from the store. I learned to read even though I was only a girl. 

Pearson’s Magazine had an interview with Diaz. In the interview, Diaz said that the Mexican people were finally ready for democracy and that he was willing to step down in the next election. Unbelievable! Diaz said, “I welcome an opposition party in the Mexican Republic…If it appears, I will regard it as a blessing, not an evil.” 

We were silent for a moment. We wondered if the article was a joke. After thirty years of dictatorship, could Mexico dare to hope it would be free of the Porfiriato? Francisco read the entire article aloud. We howled with laughter at the description the American James Creelman gave of the President: “The master and hero of modern Mexico, the inscrutable leader in whose veins is blended the blood of the primitive Mixtecs with that of the invading Spaniards…the strong, soldierly head and commanding but sensitive countenance conveys an interest beyond what words can express.” The description was so silly. Creelman said nothing but flattering things about our President, and while Diaz might have been popular with Americans and the Hacendados, for the poor peons, the Indian tribes, and the small landowners, the name of Porfiro Diaz was associated only with misery and hatred.

So it was that the revolution started in our hearts on that hot day. We were hopeful and we were ready for a true leader, one that would make changes for the people, our people. When my brothers Jorge and Juan and my sister, Albertina, came back from their work at the Terrazas-Creel hacienda that evening, we told them the exciting news and celebrated. That night, we allowed ourselves to dream of the future.

We were not the only ones who read the article in Pearson’s magazine. Francisco Madero, a landowner with a social conscience, became a candidate for president in the election of 1910. He clearly saw the problems Mexico faced and offered democratic solutions. He sounded like a reasonable man. He was a reformer, and we believed he told the truth. As we suspected, Diaz behaved like a snake. Just before the June election, our hope was arrested. Madero was in jail when Diaz was “re-elected” in July. There was no opposition. We wept, more from anger than sadness. It seemed like there was no escape from the dictator.

As small land owners, we were in constant danger of losing what little land we had. My brothers and sister worked at the neighboring Terraza’s haciendo. Albertina worked as a weekend housekeeper and my brothers worked as field hands, hoping to one day become vaqueros. With a salary of 7 or 8 pesos a month, they dreamed of saving our parents from the drudgery of dry-land farming. They imagined having the luxury of paid hands to work the family land. As vaqueros, Jorge and Juan also believed they could provide security against the Tezzaza clan, who at any moment might petition for the expropriation of our ranchero. We had no papers, no proof of ownership, only generations of work, stories, and our word to show that the land was ours. According to Porfirio, our word meant nothing.

Our prayers were answered in that summer of 1910: it rained and we had a good harvest. We were able to pay our small debt at the Wongs’ mercantile store. The Wongs saved us from having to buy from the store at the Terrazza haciendo where the prices were outrageous and the food was often rotten. We remained free of debt to the haciendado. It was a miracle.

Madero escaped from prison in October. Again, we celebrated. While in prison, Madero devised the Plan of San Luiz Potosi. It called for democratization, economic independence and land reform. He also planned an armed insurrection for November 20th

Francisco Villa lead the Madero revolt in Chihuahua. His friends called him “Pancho,” the “Robin Hood of Mexico.” He was the hero of my family. My older brothers could not wait to join up with him, even Albertina was anxious to become part of his army. My sister, the Soldadera. She pictured herself as a spy, but I believed she wanted to be a comfort girl (at 20 she still didn’t have a husband). 

Pancho was been a bandit and a Muleteer. His battle strategies were brilliant. He was a brave man, a romantic, but uneducated. I kept my feelings about “Pancho” to myself. My family only saw the best in him. I knew he was dangerous. He was sloppy and crass, a barbarian – and most important to me, he hated the Chinese in Mexico. 

I will admit I was surprised by Villa’s success, even though he had widespread support and easy access to arms because we were very close to the US border. I didn’t believe his army could pressure Porfirio Diaz to resign, but it happened, and Madero won the 1911 presidential election. We thought we had lived through the worst and that Mexico was on the right path to democracy and land reform. 

We were mistaken. Two years later, Madero’s supposedly loyal general, Victoriano Huerte, staged a coup and Madero and his Vice President Suarez were murdered.

Mexico saw Huerte for what he was: an illegitimate dictator, a jackal. He had no intention of governing democratically. Then it seemed that it was one battle after another. The new man, Carranza, called for the restoration of the constitutional government. He gave himself the title of “First chief of the Constitutionalist Army.” The next thing we knew Huerte was out and Carranza was in. Initially Villa supported Carranza, but it became evident that Carranza was too conservative, too much like Diaz. A split occurred between the two men and the real trouble for my family began.

Zapata (Villa’s rival revolutionary) and Villa joined forces against the Carranza-Obregon Constitutionalists. My brothers and sister again joined the fight. This time my younger brother Manuel joined Villa’s army. When one is fourteen, life is a big adventure. He died in the battle of Celaya. 

The Civil War was unimaginably brutal. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens lost their lives. The Conventionalists lost the war. Obregon was too sophisticated. He called it modern warfare tactics; I called it barbarism. Obregon lost his arm in the battle. Bueno! Where was the solidarity between the revolutionaries, I wondered? With US support perhaps the outcome could be no other way. I only know that while I stayed home to care for my parents, Mexico changed. Maybe Porfirio was right when he said, “The individual Mexican as a rule thinks much about his own rights and is always ready to assert them…Capacity for self-restraint is possible only to those who recognize the rights of their neighbors.” 

In my opinion the problem with the entire revolution was that each group had its own agenda. Everyone strutted like peacocks: Villa bettering Zapata, Obregon muscling Carranza. If only time had stopped in 1912 when Madero became president, Mexico may have seen peace and prosperity and saved almost two million lives. 

The Constitution of 1917 sounded good: it addressed workers rights, land reform, nationalized industry and said there would be no re-election, but how could it be trusted? Carranza was conservative and cautious. When support shifted for Obregon, Carranza retreated, but was discovered by the Obregonistas. The story is told that he died in the confusion of discovery. I have my doubts. Obregon became president in 1920.

We still have our land, but little has changed in Santa Rita. The dust still blows on years where there is a drought. We were able to buy a few cattle and we no longer fear that our ranchero will be taken by the Terraza clan. But we no longer believe in promises.

In 1918, I married Francisco Wong, who is known to you as baba. The anti-Chinese sentiment has been steadily growing for the last 10 years. Villa fueled the fire with claims that the Chinese were taking work and Mexican women from Mexicans. I was arrested for shooting at the men who attempted to burn down our mercantile store. They dragged Francisco out, threatening to string him up. He was breaking the anti-miscegenation law: Chinese men are forbidden to marry or live with Mexican women. You, my children, are “Chinos,” my husband is a “Chino,” and I am now considered a traitor to my nation and my race. I shot at those men to save our lives, but the laws are different for me. 

It is 1923. As I wait for my trial, Maria Lopez Wong vs Mexico, I am writing in my journal in the hope that my story will be carried to the next generation through you, and in the hope that wherever you may live, you will remember that Mexico is your first home.

People ask me about the revolution. Was it a good thing? Are you better off? There is no simple answer. The poor are still desperate, they blame the Chinese, the slow process of land reform, the US, and Porfirio Diaz. The people worship the memories of Zapata and Villa; the identities of the revolutionaries have become intertwined with the identity of the Mexican people. They find it difficult to move on. Yes, the industries are ours now, and we are stronger, but we are still at the beginning. It is yet to be seen whether Mexico will survive as a democracy dedicated to serving the people rather than exploiting them. As to whether the revolution was a good thing, I still feel the sting of loss. Loss of my brother, my hopes, and my innocence. Will I be deported with my husband and children to a land we have never seen? Will I be jailed, leaving my children without a mother? I await my punishment. When people ask if we are better off, say we must leave that question in the hands of our children to answer.

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Debbi Stone Cassidy has studied creative writing at the University of Oregon and the Rainier Writers Workshop. Her maternal grandmother was born in Hermosillo, Mexico in 1912. She currently lives among the tall trees and wildlife in Eugene, Oregon.

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What I Learned About Writing From Coloring Books

By Meredith Allard

As I’ve said before (in this post), I’ve joined the coloring book craze. I loved coloring when I was a kid, and as it happens I still love to color. I consider myself a wannabe crafter, and I used to dabble in painting with acrylics, and while coloring isn’t actually crafting or creating an original work of art, it still allows me to play with colors.

I’ve found that, at least for me, there is a meditation-like quality to coloring because the coloring itself is all I’m thinking about while I’m engaged in the activity. I’m not worried about schoolwork I have to do, crazy professors, and all the writing I have to get through. All I’m thinking about is the page I’m coloring, what colored pencils, crayons, or markers I want to use, and which colors I think will look best. The more I have to do, the more I appreciate the simplicity of sitting down with some crayons and filling in the pictures.

As coloring became more popular, suddenly there were countless posts and articles about how to color. It’s similar to what happened with writing and indie publishing—suddenly there were all these experts shouting about the right way to do things. Something that should be relaxing and fun becomes stressful as we try to keep up. There’s nothing like an expert to take the fun out of something.

I had the realization (while coloring, of course) that my attitude toward coloring was the same as my attitude toward writing. I had to decide for myself how I wanted to color, just like I had to decide for myself how I wanted to write. Here are a few things I learned from coloring books and how they relate to writing:

  1. Use the colors you want to use.

The experts in coloring will tell you to choose your palette first—use a color wheel to help you determine which colors to use. They’ll tell you which colors go with each other, and if you use that other color combination, look out! The Crayola Police will hunt you down. Hey, they say, that’s how painters do it, so that’s how coloring people should do it too!

And then I realized that I could use any color combination I want, just as I can write my stories however I want. I don’t like choosing my colors ahead of time. I like to choose my colors one by one as I’m coloring in the picture. Sometimes I have an overall idea of the color scheme I want to use, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m happy with how the pictures turn out, sometimes I’m not. When I’m writing, I have an overall idea of how I want the story to turn out, but I’ve also learned to get out of my own way and allow the story to find its own path. If I prefer choosing my colors as I go as opposed to choosing them first then I can do that. If I prefer letting my stories find their own way, I can do that too.

  1. Stop comparing yourself to others.

There are some amazing coloring websites out there where the coloring people post their finished pages. Some of those colored pages are indeed museum ready. They’re absolutely beautiful with shading and light and the way the colors blend together. My pictures don’t look like that (as you’ll see from the examples in this post). I love playing with colors, and some color combinations I try I like, some I don’t like as much, but so what? I wouldn’t know what I liked unless I allowed myself the freedom to experiment.

I have no desire to become a professional artist. Making myself crazy trying to make my pictures look like some of these artists’ pictures doesn’t work for me. I don’t have a lot of time to color because I’m so busy with other tasks, so when I do have time to color I don’t want to spend my time being stressed because my picture doesn’t look good enough compared to what other people can do. Where’s the fun in that?

Writers often have severe cases of compare-itis. We’re always looking to see which writers are selling more books, getting better reviews, or winning more awards than we are. We have to remind ourselves that we’re not in competition with other writers. This isn’t a race. Our careers as writers are just as unique as we are as people. No two writing careers are alike. We need to remember to focus on ourselves and helping our own careers move forward. Like runners, if we keep looking back to see who might overtake us we’ll lose steam and slow down.

  1. Outline if you want to (and it’s okay to color outside the lines).

When I was reading posts of coloring tips, a number of the experts said not to outline your drawing. Apparently, with outlining you’re not going to have a realistic looking product and that’s not how the professionals do it. Oh well. I’ve always liked to outline my coloring pictures. Even when I was a kid I’d outline the shapes with whatever crayon I was using. A lot of times, I’ll outline with a darker color and fill in the shape with a lighter color (as evidenced in the picture to the left here), and I like the way that looks. Is it wrong? Not to me. It’s my coloring page and I’m going to do it the way I want to. It’s the same with coloring outside the lines. I like it when my coloring pencils or crayons end up outside the line because then when I’m filling in the next color they blend a bit. How maddening, to feel like your coloring page is all wrong if your hand slipped and some color ended up on the other side of the black line.

There are many posts out there for writers about the right way to do things. Write in these genres if you want to make money. Publish this many books a year. Set your books at these prices. Grow your social media presence and build your author platform. But what if you don’t want to limit your writing to certain genres, or what if you have another life outside of your writing like I do and you can only publish one book a year? Does that mean that you won’t have any career as a writer? Not at all. It means that you get to decide what kind of career you’re going to have.

Here are my own tips for coloring (and they apply to writing as well):

  1. Choose what you want to color. You don’t have to start at the beginning of the book. You decide where to start. If you don’t love the picture, colorng it will be a chore. The same goes for writing. Write something you’re excited to get back to. If you’re not excited about it, it’s going to be hard to convince readers your writing is worth their time.
  1. Choose your own colors. You can use a color wheel to examine which colors go together, or you can choose whatever you want to choose because you want to choose it. You can choose them ahead of time, or you can choose them in the moment, whichever feels right to you. For writing, you get to decide how you use language. You have the final say in how you’ll string phrases together. You may not like the way some of it turns out. That’s okay. You tried it, you didn’t like it, so try again until you find something you do like.
  1. Don’t compare your pictures (or your writing) to anyone else. Find your own style.
  1. Coloring (and writing) should be fun. Listen to your favorite music. Turn off your electronic devices and other distractions. Make your coloring (and your writing) time special so you’re looking forward to getting back to it.

You can let the experts tell you what to do and how to do it, or you can find your own way. Whether I’m coloring or writing, I find it a lot more fulfilling to find my own way.

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Emma Rose Millar

By Meredith Allard

Emma is the author of Five Guns Blazing, the winner of the first place Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Emma Rose Millar: I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. As a child I was painfully shy; back then writing was a means of expressing my feelings, a way to take myself off to an imaginary world. As I grew older though, other things seemed to take over and I found myself writing less and less. When I was in my thirties, I became mixed up in a very bad relationship and it was then that I began writing my first novel. Strains from an Aeolian Harp was a dark tale of opium addiction and domestic violence, set in 1920s England when women weren’t allowed to get divorced on the grounds of cruelty alone. I wrote that novel in secret; I was terrified of my partner finding out, but it was something I felt I needed to do. Thankfully my life is a much happier place now and I think that shows in my writing.

M.A.: What is your latest novel? How would you describe it to potential readers?

E.R.M.: My latest novel, Five Guns Blazing is an historical adventure based on the true story of pirates Anne Bonny, Mary Read and John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham:

1710: Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the backstreets of London, through transportation and grueling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates, John Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny. In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust. As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?

M.A.: What makes your novels different from others about similar eras?

E.R.M.: Five Guns Blazing is a multi-layered story, not only one of piracy but also a tale of slavery in its various guises. Whilst writing the novel, it quickly became clear to me that I would need the help of a co-writer. I approached Jamaican-born author Kevin Allen and asked him if he’d read my half-finished manuscript. Fortunately for me, he liked the story so much that he agreed to work on it with me. Kevin wrote all the plantation scenes and changed some of the dialect. That was the beginning of our two year transatlantic writing affair. It was a long hard road but together I think we created something I could never have managed alone. The novel recently won first prize in its category in The Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction. It was an incredibly proud moment for both of us.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

E.R.M.: It was such a rollercoaster ride. I wholly believed in the novel and I put it through a professional edit before submitting it anywhere. Quite a few big agents in London asked to see the full manuscript after reading a sample. They all said that they loved the story but didn’t know what the market was for a book like this. It seemed it was always going to be a case of ‘close but no cigar’. For a while I’d been hearing good things about Crooked Cat Publishing in Edinburgh but they were closed to submissions at the time. As soon as they opened their doors again though I sent them Five Guns Blazing and I was thrilled when they accepted it. All of their authors were so welcoming. We work as a team; I’ve made so many lovely new friends.

M.A.: What are the joys/challenges of writing historical fiction for you?

E.R.M.:I love history, especially 18th and 19th century and I couldn’t imagine writing in any other genre. Writing historical fiction takes a tremendous amount research, but I love uncovering all those nuggets of history, stories and characters which I know will make a fantastic novel. While writing Five Guns Blazing I also discovered some fabulous old words: ‘bastardly gullion,’ ‘jerrycummumble,’ and ‘flaybottomist,’to name but a few.

M.A.: What is the research process like for you?

E.R.M.:I absolutely loved doing all the research into eighteenth-century piracy. In Anne Bonny I found the archetypal anti-heroine: treacherous, double-crossing and fiercely independent. Then there was John Rackham, a rake, devilishly handsome, the Casanova of the seas. Some sources suggest Rackham was captain in name only and it was Anne who ran the ship, terrorising all who sailed close to her. Their pirate adventure came to an abrupt end in 1720 when their ship, Revenge was captured and the entire crew sentence to death. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story. There is no record of Anne’s execution or of her release or escape from jail. What became of her is still a mystery. The more I read about the villainous pair, the more intrigued I became.

M.A.: Do you travel for research? If so, what role does travel play in your writing process?

E.R.M.: I’d have loved to go to the Caribbean as part of my research for Five Guns Blazing, but I’m a single mum and my son was far too little at the time to take a trip like that. Kevin regularly visits the islands though and he has a wealth of knowledge about their history. A lot of my own research came from the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham. They have an old court room there where they do reenactments of famous cases, an eighteenth century jail, complete with cells, exercise yard and gallows, and a fantastic transportation museum. My visits there were invaluable.

My next novel is set in Vienna and is based on a painting by Gustav Klimt. I’m hoping to go there for a few days in October with my son. He’s six now so I’m sure he’ll enjoy the zoo and the aquarium. Hopefully I’ll find some time to soak up the atmosphere and to see some of Klimt’s work while we’re there.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

E.R.M.: I really admire Sarah Waters, Alice Walker, Philippa Gregory and Joanne Harris. Their writing is sublime. I did an Open University degree in English Literature about fifteen years ago though and my bookshelves are still heaving with novels by the Bronte sisters, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, etc. I do love a good classic!

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

E.R.M.: I think good historical fiction starts with meticulous research and a great story. As with any genre, it takes a massive amount of work for an idea to blossom into published novel. The best thing I did was to find a good editor. He took the manuscript to another level; without him, it may never have been picked up by a publisher. Most of all, don’t give up; nothing worth doing ever comes easily. It’s an amazing feeling once you’ve completed a novel.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

E.R.M.: Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble

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Flesh Started the War

By Lana Elizabeth Gabris

The fires lit the heavens, calling to Neptunus as we danced in great circles, holding hands to the wrists tightly, heads thrown back with the flush, hair tangling. Men who had coveted from a distance were now eyeing us boldly but in the throng we no longer cared. Whispers of promises, fortunes, bodies to serve us and even love were tempting from all that we knew. Fathers, brothers and others were forgotten, left in a deep slumber brought on by the thick brew our neighbors had plied on the men leaving us to laugh gaily into the stars. We tumbled onto the soft grass under the thatched roofs, carefully built by these strange men who had bid all in the land to join them in a grand celebration of the heavens.

Great feasts had been pounced on under skies clear of any frowns as the celebration began with the sacrifice, overseen by their priests who had pondered carefully over the entrails before a cheer had rung through our hosts and the fire had caught, sending plumes of smoke above us. Our breath caught as the lupa king himself knelt next to the altar, his shining hair thick over dark brows and flashing eyes framed by a beard framing his chin neatly above the mane of the wolf worn proudly over the arch of his shoulders as he pressed his fingers to his lips then touched the flat slabs still warm with the blessing.

The sky began to darken, shadows of the night birds passing over the hills around the city, above the wall they said he had dug and molded with his own hands. Above, the gods sent an omen trailing through the heavens, sending my thoughts on diverged paths. His senators had begun mingling with our own chosen men, making offerings and out of the corner of my eye movement on the altar drew my gaze back to his lone figure, still honoring the sacrifice, the smoke sweet in the air.

His eyes lifted and my breath caught at the image of the flames cloaking myself standing frozen under the gaze so many feared, as my own father could command having been born cousin to the king of our people. Through his soul I could see grand pillars being erected into temples reaching to the gods doorstep and I had almost reached the altar before I realized I was moving towards him. His lip had curled into an edge of a smile, the gleam of his tooth bright.

He rose, the silver in the fur mantle rippling with his steps towards me. He spoke, his voice deep with teasing conviction. “This is what will be,” Long fingers just brushed over my shoulder, “You see it too, a land for kings, a palace for a queen.” His breath lifted my hair, teasing, “My queen.” I tipped my chin over my shoulder to follow him as he stepped behind me, pointing to the high hills above us lining the night sky.

“I would build you pillars of dreams taking you beyond the heavens and reap you riches you deserve.”

I laughed, letting his hand drop to my waist. His voice had been so full of passion for a moment I could almost see the stones being erected into the sky by his own hands. Around us the fires burned and shadows danced as I ran my fingers through the cape, the fur alive. “I’ve already been promised pillars of gold dreams.” But my thoughts had already forsaken my intended.

His head tipped and he looked down at me over his nose, “I knew you’d come.” His words caressed past his lips, the mocking gaze I remembered so well from years ago along the riverbank instantly flushing my cheeks. Even then, the two brothers had been ambitious, each tempting, though my heart had been quickly captured by him alone, his eyes with the flecks of gold haunting my nights throughout the years.

Two brothers, so unlike beyond the matching looks only those close to them could ease the differences apart, from the hitch of a smile, to a scar on a shoulder. The ever so slightly different shade of golden eyes, the touch of a kiss always tempting.

Our king had forbidden contact between the two regions, rumors from the Oracle to beware the river people had been boiling since before my time, but I had longed to see the beautiful twins after whispers from the priests had been circulating and I had closed my ears to the warnings.

Even then, they had had their own strong visions of what would be and now in these years some had come to pass, leaving him the sole inheritor to their dreams. Tensions had begun to rise with the waters of the river and whispers of trades between some of the families, forbidden dowry’s being negotiated and accepted, against our kings’ orders.

The pressure of his hand on my elbow, demanding to follow him into the darkness of the wall, made the feeling weight of the promise to another dragging at my hand slip away.

“You loved me once.” His breath was hot on my cheek, “But I love you still. Help me build this life.”

“It would start a war.” I could almost feel my intended’s eyes looking for us but it didn’t seem to matter.

His lips pressed against my hair. “Let it.”

The patterns of the stars, traces of the gods drawing their plans, sparkled above the flames that streaked along the walls as I ran, not in fear, but in bliss. Drunken from the moment, my skin still hot where his sure hands had guided me, I sought my sisters, many women I had grown with, and some I had never met until these past few days. Their glowing eyes, warm with the thrill of men so unlike our own were already willing to follow their desires and flesh started the war that only words would dispel.

Words cried and rent across battle lines even as blood pooled up over our ankles, spilled from bloodlines now mixed across opposing forces, until arms were lowered, the peace wrung from the stubborn and we ruled the world.

______________________________________________________________

Lana Elizabeth Gabris currently lives in the heart of British Columbia with her floor to ceiling sagging bookshelves, along with her fiancé and their much loved dogs of various sizes. Her illustrations of flora have been published in several outdoor magazines across North America.

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Gary Beck

Achilles, On Modern Warfare

I met my enemies

on the battlefield

face to face

and won renown

with my strong spear.

I was brought down

by an arrow

I couldn’t evade.

There is no honor

fighting a foe

who kills you

from far away,

so you never look

into his eyes.

 

Unknown Union Soldier

 The cowardly rebs

won’t stand up and fight

like real men.

They hide behind stone walls

and won’t face us,

shooting us down like dogs

while we’re lined up

in formation

the way real soldiers should.

It’s good we outnumber them,

or else they’d wipe us out

with shots from ambush.

______________________________________________________________

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. He has 11 published chapbooks. His poetry collections include: Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press). Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays (Winter Goose Publishing). Fault Lines, Perceptions, Tremors and Perturbations will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. Conditioned Response (Nazar Look). Resonance (Dreaming Big Publications). His novels include: Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press) Acts of Defiance (Artema Press). Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing). Call to Valor will be published by Gnome on Pigs Productions. His short story collection, A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). Now I Accuse and other stories will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.

 

 

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Laennec’s Prescience

By Roy Smythe, MD

Paris, December 1816

The young physician strode quickly and purposefully across the narrow cobblestone thoroughfare that would soon widen and pass in front of the Palace d’ Louvre.  “Always I rush”, he thought to himself, shaking his head.  He looked down as he moved forward, and his frustration slowly changed to amusement.  It seemed the dark grey rectangular stones were amazingly uniform in both structure and alignment, and he wondered how the workmen who had laid these stones, perhaps fifty years earlier, had been so precise.  He also mused, as he was apt to do, based on his love for “pathologie anatomique”  the surface resembled a cirrhotic patient’s diseased liver specimen he had recently studied at the Hôpital Neckar.

It was too early for most to be engaged in their daily activities, especially on this back street – a short cut he did not usually take en route to the arrondissement that was his destination.  Each brisk step echoed a sharp report as the hard leather soles of his single buckle black shoes struck the stone – “click-click-click”, between the edifices on either side of him.

When he exited the narrow thoroughfare, and came upon the edge of a more spacious area surrounding the palace grounds, he noticed two young urchins playing with a piece of lumber.  It looked as if it may have been an old fencepost – one had at some point been trimmed into roughly cylindrical shape.  He guessed it was about six feet in length, and perhaps four or so inches in width.  The boys were laughing loudly, taking turns – one hefting it up on his shoulder and placing the end of the wooden length to the ear of one, the other scratching his end of the post with a large, rusty nail.

He slowed, then stopped and watched.

“I can hear it… I can hear it!” the boy on the listening end exclaimed, laughing…

Laennec stood by patiently waiting while they did this in turn a few times, and then walked over and asked, “may I try, juenes amis?”.  The boys gladly complied, and he placed his ear on the listening end of the post.  When one of the boys ran the point of the nail over the other end, ever so gently, Laennec laughed out loud as well, “Viola!  Now I understand… indeed!”

He then took several turns with the two boys – either listening or manning the nail at the opposite end of the post…  Eventually, he remembered his patient, and bade the boys farewell, pitching a coin from his frockcoat pocket to the smaller of the two.  He picked up his daybook and bag, and hurried along.

“Once again,” he mumbled to himself, “I rush…”

His morning had started in the usual way.  He awoke early, before sunrise, had a small bowl of porridge and dressed, excepting his frockcoat.  He then spent some time playing his flute – his sheet music placed on a small wooden stand in front of a window overlooking the street from his second story window, and he on a high wooden stool facing it…  He started with the scales, and then began working on a new Shubert piece he was attempting to learn.

He had been struggling with a particular passage for several days, but he was no stranger to the concept of “le problem.”  Even though he was but 35 years old, he had already contributed a great deal to medicine as a pathologist and clinician interested in diseases of the chest – solving problems was of particular interest to him.  A figure came and quickly departed from his window view – running down the lane in front of his home and diverted Laennec’s gaze briefly over the top of his sheet music.  A few moments later there was a loud knock at his front door.

“Monsieur,” the boy, whom Laennec judged to be no more than twelve or thirteen years of age, blurted out his speech pressured and hurried, “I have been asked to summon you, if you are available, to see a woman living in my mother’s boarding house.”  “What is the problem,” Laennec asked, “that requires me… young man?”  He quickly examined the boy more closely.  He clothing was clean, but worn, and his hair long and relatively unkempt beneath a dark brown felt hat.  He noted there were perspiration stains about the area where a headband would normally be.

“She complains of difficulty getting her breath, and is having pain… pain… in her… busom”

“What part of her busom?” Laennec inquired, “in the front, or on one side…  or both sides?”

“I’m not sure monsieur… In the front… I believe… yes, in the front area…” the young man replied, pointing to the middle of his own chest, his finger trembling from the exertion of having just run several blocks, and his social discomfort.

“Give me your address, and please return and tell your mother, and the woman of whom you speak, that I am shortly en route.”

After leaving the boys and their listening game behind, Laennec finally arrived at the address he had hastily scrawled on a piece of paper earlier. He stood before a two-story boarding house – its stucco surface covered in flaking yellow paint, with several grey wooden shutters – all missing slats or parts of their frames, some hanging askance at the margins of the clouded glass windows they had originally bracketed.  The young messenger again appeared at one of the two doors at the front of the structure, and let Laennec in, after which they climbed a flight of dusty, wooden steps to the building’s second story.  The doctor noted the mixed odors of urine and cooked cabbage as he ascended.

The boy rapped gently on a door at the top of the steps, and then pushed it open without waiting for a reply.  An older woman was waiting in the two-room dwelling, just a few feet behind the door – the front room in which they now stood was a combination of sitting area and kitchen – furnished with a few crude apparently hand-made pieces of furniture. There was a large iron pot on the wooden stove, with liquid bubbling over the edges of the rim and steam rising up and dissipating as it approached the low ceiling.

Ah,” Laennec thought to himself, “the source of the one of the two odors.”

The old woman was still dressed in off-grey nightgowns, and cap.  She walked up to Laennec and grabbed him by the upper arm, without speaking, and pointed to the door of the other room.  Laennec noticed her face was wet with tears.

“Yes, madam,” he whispered, “the patient?”  She nodded her head.

Laennec walked into the second room.  In the center of the space, there was a small bed, low to the ground, containing what appeared to be a very obese person, amidst a large disorganized pile of white cotton and tan burlap bedding.

“Madam?”

The woman lifted her hand off of the bed a few inches, with no obvious intentionality, then let it fall.

Laennec walked up to her side, leaned over and gently moved the blankets down from around the woman’s neck.  Her round face was pale and drenched in sweat, and her eyes half-closed.  Her unwashed hair was matted up in a great wad on the top of her head, and she had obviously not bathed in some time – based on the strong odor.  She was breathing fast, he noted, and he ascertained, silently… “mild distress, but no imminent danger”.

“May I examine you, Madam?”

She opened her eyes a bit more, focused on Laennec, and nodded, almost imperceptibly.

He leaned over, and touched the back of his hand to her forehead.  He then lifted her eyelids, and took a look at the mucous membranes around her eyes, examining the color, and moisture.

No signs of having lost blood, or fluid”, he thought to himself, “and there is no fever.

He reached down and untied the strings holding her gown together at the neck, and pulled it down slightly.  To his dismay, he immediately noted that her breasts were enormous – there was absolutely no space between her cleavage and her almost equally ample double chin.  He stood up, looked over at a corner in the room, rubbed the palms of his hands on his breaches, and sighed.

From behind him came the nervous and now stuttering voice of the young messenger, “Why… why… do you stop, monsieur?  What… did you see?”

Laennec did not know the boy had followed him into the patient’s home, and was startled, “Oh!.. oh… yes…  He then turned his back to the woman, leaned over to him and replied in a low voice, “this woman is younger than I expected, and her… um… habitus… makes direct auscultation impossible.  I am at a loss, in the moment, regarding my next maneuver.”  As he looked in the boy’s direction, he found his eyes were drawn to a small vanity in the corner behind him, covered in a jumbled stack of writing paper, and a dry inkwell lying on its side.

He walked over the table, pushing the boy aside absentmindedly.  He gathered up a large number of sheets and rolled them tight, into a “solid” tube of paper.  He then walked back over to the woman’s bedside, placed one end of the rolled paper between her breasts, onto the firm surface of her breastbone, and placed his ear to the other end.

The young boy watched him, nervously.   He had no idea what the word “auscultation” meant, and feared, due to his strong aversion to the sight of blood it might be some sort of surgical procedure.  He had no longer recovered from that consideration, when he then feared Laennec might strike him, or the woman, with the paper “weapon” he had created.  Momentarily relieved once again, he then wondered, as Laennec placed it into the woman’s cleavage, whether or not the doctor might have taken leave of his senses.

Laennac stayed in that position for several seconds with his eyes tightly shut, his ear to the paper tube, listening intently.

He smiled.

Later that night, he dined with his friend and confidante, François Louis Becquey.

“How was your day, good doctor?” Becquey asked, as they were sitting down.  His voice gravelly from years of giving speeches in the Legislative Assembly and his cheeks ruddy from years of heavily imbibing in drink – both frequently in efforts to change the minds of his argumentative colleagues.

Laennec replied, “my day… was, in fact… remarkable.”

“Pray tell?” Becquey implored casually, reaching for his glass of wine.

Laennec stared blankly at Becquey’s face, then down at the off-white canvas tablecloth, “I believe I have discovered a contrivance, one that may extend the physician’s ability to do many things, and know many things… things previously undiscerned.”  Becquey took a sip, pursed his lips in feigned interest, and nodded.  He was a politician after all, and somewhat inured to his brilliant young colleague’s frequent musings about advances in medicine.  Laennec waited until Becquey sat his wine glass back down, looked up, and continued, “It is my sense more and more contrivances will be created, my good friend – many we could not conceive of in our wildest imagination, and likely changing for all time the nature of how the physician approaches the patient… and his disease…”

Laennec then fell silent, and turned his head, staring off into a dark corner of the dimly lit tavern.

After a long moment, he whispered to himself a quote from Copernicus – one he had learned as a young schoolboy…

“Pouring forth its seas everywhere, then, the ocean envelops the earth and fills its deeper chasms.”

______________________________________________________________

Roy Smythe, MD is a former academic surgeon, biomedical investigator, medical school endowed chair and healthcare administrator currently working as a value-based care consultant.  He has written prolifically in the medical academic research literature, and has also published narratives, fiction and opinion pieces in the lay scientific and humanities press.  He is a monthly contributor to the Forbes Business / Healthcare and Pharma panel.  Dr. Smythe is a native Texan who works and lives in the Chicago area, and struggles to survive each winter.

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Sudden Death

Written by Álvaro Enrigue

Translated by Natasha Wimmer
Published by Riverbed Books

Review by Cynthia C. Scott

5 quills
 
 
 
Novelist Álvaro Enrigue returns with his fifth novel Sudden Death in a new English translation by Natasha Wimmer. Published in Spain in 2013, it won the 31st Herralde Novel Prize for its monumental yet intimate examinations about the cultural and political revolutions that swept through Europe and the New World during the Counter-Reformation. Considered among a distinguished list of Mexican writers that include Enrique Vila-Matas, Javier Marías, Juan Villoro, and Roberto Bolaño, Enrigue was awarded the Joaquín Mortiz Prize for his 1996 debut novel La muerte de un instalador, which was also named one of the key novels in Mexico in the twenty-first century. His novels, which also include Hipotermia and Vidas perpediculares, are experimental treatises on the disjointed, unreliable nature of narrative. Sudden Death follows in that same vein.
 
Sudden Death features a dizzying cast of historical figures that includes Caravaggio, Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo, Hernán Cortéz and his Mayan translator and lover Malitzen (La Malinche), Galileo, and many others. However it’s central conceit revolves around a tennis match between the Lombard artist and the poet and how its outcome will change the course of history. While that might seem a bit hyperbolic, it cannot be overstated that Caravaggio, whose monumental works include The Martyrdom of St. Matthew and The Calling of St. Matthew, did revolutionize painting, giving birth to modern art with his bold use of light and naturalism, and bridging the Mannerism and the Baroque movements in Europe. Yet Caravaggio’s scandalous and often violent personal life (he fled Italy in 1606 after being sentenced to death for killing a young man) and his visionary work are fitting analogies for the cultural and political upheavals unfolding during the Counter-Reformation.
 
The Caravaggio and de Quevedo we meet are crude and sexually adventurous men whose creative energies move off the pages and the canvasses into their personal lives. Caravaggio is still a struggling artist who makes a living by playing tennis matches for bets and commissioned artwork for Cardinal Francesco Del Monte and banking heir Vincenzo Giustiniani. De Quevedo’s friend the Duke of Osuna, who shares the poet’s readiness for “insatiable urges,” was the catalyst for their flight to Italy after the Duke’s three separate scandalous trials. There, in Rome, both artists engage in a battle of tennis, wits, and sexual tension. Watching and betting on the matches are another circle of players which include two of Caravagggio’s lovers, Galileo and Mary Magdalene––a prostitute model who is featured in Martha and Mary Magdalene––as well as back alley drunkards, gamblers, and louts. Enrigue describes the scenes with an eye for satire. “He recognized them: [Mary Magdalene’s breasts] were, of course, the most defiant pair of tits in the history of art.”
 
The match itself would be compelling and absurdly funny on its own, but Enrigue ties the fates of the two men to the larger world canvas. The tennis ball they use during the matches is made out of the hair shorn from the severed head of Anne Boleyn, one of four of “the most luxurious sporting equipment of the Renaissance.” A scapular de Quevedo wears under his clothes was woven from the hairs of the last Aztec emperor who was tortured and ordered executed by Cortéz during his brutal conquest of the Americas. Through this and other objet d’art Enrigue is able to spin his tale outward in sketches, segments, and excerpts from other works, crossing both time and space to introduce historical characters and the political, cultural, and religious movements that shaped the modern world. 
 
Aside from Caravaggio and de Quevedo, Cortéz and Malitzen, whose schemes lead to the destruction of the Aztec empire, the bishop who uses Thomas More’s satirical novel Utopia as a guide to build New Spain, and Francesco Maria del Monte who would become Pope Pius IV form the other compelling tales in the novel. In the middle of it all is the author himself, acting as literary curator archiving Boleyn’s balls, Caravaggio’s art, sixteenth century Spanish dictionaries on the rules and nomenclature of tennis, and other historical objects that breathe life into the past. As the novel progresses, collecting more characters, artifacts, and memories, Enrigue returns to the tennis match to balance out his many diversions. 
 
Natasha Wimmer, who translated Bolaño’s work, does an excellent job in retaining the playfulness in Enrigue’s prose, creating in English a lament that never fails to illuminate the author’s intent: 
 
The rest of infinite America still had no inkling that over the next two hundred years, dozens of thousand-year old cultures that had flourished in isolation, without contamination or means of defense, would inexorably be trashed. Not that it matters: nothing matters. Species are extinguished, children leave home, friends turn up with impossible girlfriends, cultures disappear, languages are one day no longer spoken; those who survive convince themselves that they were the most fit.
 
It would be easy to reduce Sudden Death to a story about the destruction that precedes the rise and collapse of empires and cultures, but the novel is much more than that. Its real purpose is to question narratives, both historical and fictional. As Enrigue writes with an air of resignation and uncertainty, “I don’t know what this book is about. I know that as I wrote it I was angry because the bad guys always win.” In the end, he concludes that “[t]he honest thing is to relay my doubts and let the conversation move one step forward: the readers may know better.” And that is where the heart of the novel rests: its trust in readers.
 
As an historical novel, Sudden Death is a deeply ruminative and wickedly absurd examination of art and history that deserves your attention. It will leave you wondering about narrative, the stories we choose to tell, and how they shape our understanding of the modern world. 
__________________________________________________________________________________

Cynthia C. Scott is a freelance writer whose fiction, reviews, and essays have appeared in Hakai Magazine, Graze Magazine, Flyleaf Journal, eFiction, Rain Taxi, Bright Lights Film Journal, Strange Horizon, and others. She’s a lifelong resident of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Something to Talk About Or The How’s of Fame

By Susan Heldt Davis 

Geoffrey Chaucer crossed the gravel courtyard of the Savoy palace slowly, head bent down in contemplation. Katherine, his sister-in-law, had called for him, and he knew what that meant. As John of Gaunt’s long time mistress, she took care of the duke’s social schedule when he was in London. And that was not good news, not this season. John of Gaunt had recently returned from France without a victory and a skeleton army, so many having died or deserted. Now Chaucer would be brought in to lift the duke’s spirits though he himself had not the spirit to do so.

Chaucer envied the duke, for though he would face opprobrium for his conduct of the war, at least he would be noticed. Obscurity was what really stung. And that was Chaucer’s lot. As the son of a merchant, he ought not expect more, but his hackles rose at the signs of his own insignificance. His recent appointment to the controllership at the Customs House had sealed his fate as one of the great unknown. The job had been touted as a coup, a fine position for a public servant. And, yes, the customs house gave him the responsibility to direct a number of workers. At what cost, though? Until this ‘coup’ he’d served the king. He’d lived among the mighty, walked the halls of power. His opinion mattered. His negotiating skills were so valued he’d traveled on the king’s business nearly every season. Now he dealt with ship captains and hawkers, his only contact with the royals coming through his poems. Unless you were Virgil or Dante, you didn’t make a name making rhymes.

Katherine met Geoffrey in her large, well appointed office. “How now, Geoffrey? Goes all well with you?” Before he could answer, Katherine plowed on, “We’ll host a soiree Thursday next, and the duke wants to hear you read.”

“By my soul, Katherine, next week is most difficult. Must the duke hear me?”

“Yes, Geoffrey. In this bleak season he doesn’t want to suffer through laments or sermons, and he surely doesn’t want to hear French. So give us something light, lovely and English.”

Perhaps there were arguments that would have persuaded Chaucer, but touting his choice of language was not one of them, so he demurred, “English is not a problem, Katherine, but poetry is not that easy. I have nothing finished.”

“Yet you do have something started, no?” Katherine said, flashing her most winning smile.

“A start is only good if it has an end.”

“Then give it one, Geoffrey. The duke needs some lightness in his life.”

“I’d love to accommodate you, Katherine, but I don’t want to stand before a hundred guests and read drivel.”

“Come, come, Geoffrey. You never read drivel. Remember that poem you read last winter about the birds. Afterward people spent the rest of the evening figuring out who each bird represented. That was what John appreciated most—all poets rhyme, but you get people talking.”

“Get people talking. Really? Is that the entirety of my virtue as a poet?”

“In that poem it was. For a month, your birds were the primary topic of conversation all over London.”

“For a whole month! Zounds, that is a long time for one small poem to last in the minds of the busy and powerful. I didn’t know,” Geoffrey lamented sardonically.

“And now it’s time to do it again,” replied the matter-of-fact and occasionally obtuse Katherine. “So concoct something to make us laugh and stir up conversation.”

“I have no spoon to stir the pot, Katherine. You know I rarely get out.”

“I know nothing of the sort, brother. I see you at all the great houses reading your poems. You must have gleaned something—give us hints about some secret love or nasty dealings in court. Nothing too serious, though. Just make us laugh.”

Chaucer’s new work, The House of Fame, would surely make people laugh; that was no problem. But the other? For all his evenings among the glittering nobility, he had no new gossip to startle an audience. And how would he know about any recent nasty dealings at court, stuck as he was at the docks? Certes, he couldn’t repeat the lies he heard there. Because they knew nothing, the sailors told the most outrageous tales as gospel truth. It seemed they never tired of fabricating some new scandal out of thin air. But Chaucer couldn’t do that, not and hope to ever read again before the nobles. They would expect the truth, no guessing or surmising. No…Then, as if a veil were lifted, he knew. Of course, Chaucer thought. That’s how to make people talk.

Joyfully, for he’d been truly stymied about how to end his “House of Fame,” Chaucer said, “By the rood, Katherine, you’ve given me the key. I will read, gladly.”

Katherine heartily thanked him, but Chaucer barely noticed, his mind already racing to the details of the poem he now could finish.

On the evening of the soiree, Katherine greeted the guests as they entered the Savoy’s incongruously named petit salon, a room large enough to hold well over a hundred guests. As it was August, the guests were fewer than they would be three or four weeks hence when the fall season would start in earnest, but still they were a glittering crowd in their silks and satins. Even Chaucer, who normally wore a plain dark robe and modest shoes, shone in an extravagant blue velvet cape embroidered in silver and edged in lush white ermine. If he thought this garb would make him fit in with the nobles, he was mistaken. People looked at the little man wearing the out of season, flamboyant, Italian cape and stifled their laughter. But Chaucer seemed not to notice as he made his way toward the duke. After a greeting and a quiet word, the two, one tall and elegant, the other short, pudgy and overdressed, repaired to a small anteroom.

Servants threaded through the crowd offering drinks and tidbits to eat until bells chimed as a signal that the entertainment would soon start. Once the benches were set out, guests took their seats and all attention focused on the short poet standing behind the large dais at the head of the salon. Chaucer, his face glistening with sweat, announced that since his poem, The House of Fame, was rather long, he’d read the first half before dinner and the second half after.

Chaucer began by describing a dreamer named Geffry who went to a temple where wall paintings told a well-worn story. The audience sat politely but, since this sounded like so many poems they’d heard before, their attention centered more on the jewels bedecking nearby necks, on the curve of the boot-toes that were attached to small gold knee-chains, and on Geoffrey’s ermine cape than on the poet’s words. Only for a minute, though. Chaucer, looking out over the placid faces, smiled secretively and then launched into a description of the dreamer Geffrey stepping outside the temple where he saw a giant eagle swooping down at him. As Chaucer described this, his eyes rose toward the ceiling and the bird; he thrust his hands upward as if to stop the eagle as it flew down at him. In a quavering voice, he read,

And with its grim paws strong

And with its sharp nails long,

Me, flying in a swoop, it seized

He stopped there and bent over, his arms stretched out before him as if the eagle had grabbed onto his back. Gasping and covering his eyes, Chaucer cried out that they had flown so high he was afraid to look down.

Suddenly his voice changed, and in a Flemish accent he had the eagle bellow, “Awake! And be not so aghast! For shame!”

Katherine, who recognized the imitation of her sister’s nagging voice, guffawed, and soon everyone was laughing as Chaucer switched between the meek dreamer’s voice and that of the fierce Flemish eagle.

The eagle then scolded, “What’s in your head’s full light!” and Chaucer stamped his foot and shook his fist up at the imagined bird, to which the eagle’s voice, now dripping with sarcasm, said,

Every night you just go home

And sit alone, dumb as any stone.

The audience roared, some because they thought it was true, others because they knew it wasn’t. The eagle continued, “And abstinence is not your way,” at which Chaucer patted his round belly. Again the room again erupted into so much laughter he had to stop reading.

The eagle was taking Geffry dreamer to visit the Goddess Fame to hear tales of love, true ones, not those from the books of lore Geffry read. But first there would be the dinner break. Chaucer put down his sheaf of parchments and bowed. The room burst out in applause, many calling for the second part to be read right away, but decorum triumphed, and dinner was served.

While he tried to eat, one person after another asked Chaucer if he would reveal actual tales of love—clearly hoping (or fearing) some good gossip would be revealed. Chaucer, giving nothing away, just put a finger over his mouth. Most accepted his silence with good humor, but one fellow in a scarlet cloak, a color only men of noble birth were permitted to wear, looked exasperated and, eying Chaucer’s cape, asked pointedly, “What kind of fur is that trimming your cloak?”

“Muskrat I think,” Chaucer said tentatively.

“No muskrat I know ever looked like that—I’m certain it’s ermine.”

Chaucer smiled but said nothing.

“Not wise, Mr. Chaucer,” the man warned. “The law is clear. You aren’t a knight or a noble, so you must not go about in silver and ermine.”

“Ah, the Sumptuary Law, the great unequalizer,” Chaucer replied with a hint of disrespect, perhaps because law was so rarely enforced. “I certainly don’t want to be arrested for wearing fur beyond my station.”

Sneering, the scarlet cloak walked off.

When the guests reassembled, Chaucer read a long description of the goddess Fame and her court for supplicants. In a high, nasal voice, Chaucer had Fame dole out renown, ignominy and obscurity helter-skelter, rewarding some as they deserved but most merely as she pleased. Again and again the audience laughed at her random choices, and at the frustration and elation Chaucer demonstrated as noble men were denied their deserts and charlatans and louts were given all they asked for. After a while, though, the audience’s laughter and engagement began to wane as the joke grew old.

But they perked up almost immediately, for the dreamer left Fame’s luxurious palace and went to the ramshackle House of Rumor next door, where a mob of gossips was passing secrets on from one to another. After a couple of jokes about all this tale-telling, Chaucer paused and in a quiet, cryptic voice described a corner of the House of Rumor that held news of secret loves. Someone, according to Geffry dreamer, was about to enter from that very place, so the mob of gossips deserted him for the corner and were jumping up on each other to get in place so they could hear the newest scandal. As he read, Chaucer jumped up and craned his own neck to look toward the door at back of the salon, causing more than one in the audience to follow his gaze. Seeing no one, they turned back to Chaucer, whose voice rang of suspense as he read,

At last I saw a man

Who that I cannot name

But he seemed for all to be

A man of great Authority….

Again Chaucer paused. The audience as one held its breath waiting for Chaucer to name this important man or, at least, have the man announce the names of the secret lovers.

Suddenly two real men, one dressed in a judge’s robe and the other in helmet and armor, stormed into the salon shouting “Halt in the name of the law!” They rushed to the dais and grabbed Chaucer by the arms. Chaucer struggled, but to no avail, and managed only to grab the last page of his manuscript before the men pulled him off the dais and toward the door. Half way down the aisle, the armored man announced, “As you wear ermine, velvet and silver, you are in violation of the King’s Sumptuary Law. I arrest you in the name of the law!”  The men strode out dragging their prisoner, and Chaucer was gone.

Many in the audience thought John of Gaunt must have been stunned into inaction to allow these interlopers to arrest his guest of honor; though by his smile, it may be he called for the sumptuary constable himself. Some thought to ask him—particularly one wearing a scarlet cape—but the duke quietly left the room, his smile broader than ever. Then neighbor turned to neighbor to wonder whether little Chaucer was in big trouble, some believing he deserved the full force of the law and some defending him. Soon, though, the talk drifted to the scene Chaucer had not finished. Who was the man of great authority? And more to the point, what scandal did he have to reveal? Chaucer couldn’t have planned to name the duke and his lady Katherine, for not only would doing so be impolitic here at the Savoy, but the affair was such old news people would have laughed Chaucer off the dais. So who? A few, whose faces had relaxed only after Chaucer was long gone, knew personally of a tale of love he might have revealed, but they kept quiet and let the others guess as best they might.

Inside a nearby tavern, Chaucer folded his sumptuous cape carefully and put it in a bag. Then, looking at his two companions—a man dressed in armor and another in a judge’s cape—he lifted his glass to make a toast, “Thank you, my friends. You have surely given the good people at the Savoy something to talk about. Even if they don’t care what happened to me tonight, they will, I trust, ponder who the man of authority is and, more particularly, whom he’s going to name. If people are still asking those questions in a month, I will have given the duke all he asked for. If they are asking them in year, then Fame, willful as she is, shall be mine.”

Chaucer, in his humility, never considered suggesting that people might still be asking those very same questions over six hundred years later.

______________________________________________________________

Susan Heldt Davis graduated from Cornell University (BA) and NYU (MA). For ten years she wrote and produced children’s plays for Chatterbox Players of Westchester, NY. Her poetry has appeared in Earth’s DaughtersSpank the Carp and (upcoming) Iconoclast and her fiction, which won third prize in the Soul-Making Literary Competition 2005, in Verbsap. She is currently working on a novel Geoffrey the Short, a fictional biography of Geoffrey Chaucer.

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The Healing

By Samantha Lisk

“Heil Hitler!”

Swallowing the bile that always rose when he was forced to use the greeting, the doctor pasted on a smile as he pushed aside the tent flap separating the field hospital from the rest of the encampment and entered the small space currently serving as his exam room. His knee-high black boots, long having lost their shine, squelched in the mud—only mud, he told himself firmly, there was no reddish tint to the dark brown of churned-up soil and grass, or if there was, it was only clay—and in the back of his mind he noted the extra effort it took to pick up his feet again. “Good day. How can I help you?”

The pale pilot’s smile was wan. “I’m the one who needs healing today, not the Führer. I’ve been ill for several days.”

The doctor rummaged in his pockets, eventually pulling a small, bent notepad and a pencil stub out of his pocket. “What symptoms have you experienced?”

As the pilot began to list them, the doctor took notes, nodding and making encouraging noises whenever the soldier drew breath. Having made a mental diagnosis of the flu upon hearing the first few symptoms, the doctor’s mind began to wander as the pilot droned on. He needed to ensure that his clerk had typed his notes from his meetings with this week’s patients; the man really was becoming inexcusably lax. Perhaps if he dropped a hint about searching for another clerk it might startle him into minding his work.

Then there was the matter of the children—

“Doctor?”

He looked up. The pilot was looking at him inquiringly. “Hmm? I’m sorry, I was thinking over your symptoms. What did you say?”

“I asked what you thought the problem was. As you can see,” the pilot indicated his uniform, “I am a member of the Luftwaffe, so I don’t have much time to be sick. My Geschwader will be flying to London soon.”

The doctor’s eyes lingered for a moment on the medal hanging at the pilot’s neck. It was the Iron Cross, the body black and rimmed with silver, hanging from a ribbon with two thin stripes of black and white bordering a much thicker red stripe, bright as a bloodstain.

A tiny swastika was set in the center.

“Yes,” he murmured, then louder, as if waking up from a dream, “Yes, of course. Based on the symptoms you described, I believe that you have nothing more than a lingering case of influenza. To treat it, you must…”

He trailed off. He seemed to see the Cross again, as if the image had been burned into his retinas, an afterimage seared into his brain. But there were words written on this Cross, words written in bright white, so bright that they burned away the swastika. There were two words, only two, a simple Latin phrase he had learned long ago in his childhood.

Nil nocere.

Do no harm.

He heard a fellow doctor outside the tent greet someone with the usual required salute to the Führer. Distant explosions signaled the beginning of another battle.

Heil Hitler.

“Excuse me a moment,” he muttered in the direction of the pilot. “I must look something up.”

Boots squelching, he hurried out of the tent. He strode along, unsure of his destination, unheeding of the salutes he received from the soldiers he passed. His mind whirled, his eyes seeing nothing but the Cross and his ears ringing with the incessant saluting phrase; he felt almost feverish. He could not possibly do this.

To make a mistake in treating a patient was one thing.

But to knowingly mislead a patient—to intentionally prescribe the wrong treatment?

This was criminal.

This was wrong.

He could not—

He stopped short. Another image was before him now. A woman walked out of his memory, holding a little girl’s hand as she ambled past. They were smiling and the little girl’s laughter seemed to ring in his ears as they walked down the hallway of the clinic he had run. (Was it three years ago now or four?) And this image was suddenly replaced by another, an image of the little girl transported to London, cowering as the Luftwaffe dropped bombs over her head, the woman who had held her hand nowhere to be seen. And beside her was the other young girl he had had to—

The doctor stopped walking. He slumped against the uneven remains of a wall, head bowed, breathing heavily. He stayed that way for some moments; then slowly, as if weighed down by a heavy burden, he straightened again, turned, and made his way back to his patient’s tent. Glancing down, he wondered how long he had been gone; the ground was now dry and the mud caked on his boots dropped off in dried reddish-brown flakes as he walked. He pushed the flap aside and walked in, greeting the waiting pilot.

“Heil Hitler.”

______________________________________________________________

Samantha Lisk lives in Cary, North Carolina, with one goofy black lab mix and an abundance of pollen. She has been published in The Lyricist and This Is London Magazine, and she enjoys reading, writing, and talking about historical fiction. She can usually be found on Twitter at @Smlisk, in various secondhand bookshops in the Raleigh area, or on the greenway near her house.

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Jax NTP

My Dearest Garcia Lorca,

the starchy quietness of my room is louder than the anatomy
of swans reflecting elephants. since i came back from Paris
the land outside my window is a parched mermaid contortionist.
if not for the hymns of my shyness, the fulcrum of our swords
would cross. pain is the architecture of loneliness, soft and hard
boiled eggs, and the small conversations i have with myself.
what constitutes denial is gathered up in cloves of phantom
ships
. if not for the stories of my shyness, Gala would have never
been my wife. when i look at my basket of bread, i see the vacillating
face of war
 — when i masturbate to Mae West’s lips, i long to call
you from a poached lobster telephoneif not for the persistence
of my memory
, i could not paint the hidden corals and conches
for you. ants and ants, but even my subconscious is not patient
enough for your poetry. my brittle heart is a bobbing turtle’s head,
the tip of my tongue, chalk, whitened from silence. what is regret
but desire for chance — diaphanous dragonflies and monochromatic
confessions. the olive wind whispers your name in sierra, and i hate
that it haunts me. there is no truth in longing, only urgency. tonight,
the Catalan lights shine on binary breasts of roses, and still, i live in
the drawers from the burning giraffe and penumbra of your absence.

always,
Salvador DalÍ

______________________________________________________________

Jax NTP holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry from CSU Long Beach and teaches Critical Thinking & Composition at Golden West College, in Huntington Beach, CA. Jax reads poetry and fiction for The Offing Magazine and edits poetry for Indicia Lit. Jax’s words have appeared in Cordite Poetry ReviewApogee Journal, and 3:AM Magazine.

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Vulcan’s Torch

By James Miller Robinson

Vulcan’s monumental iron statue was unveiled at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.  At fifty-five feet tall and weighing 120,000 pounds, it was the largest individual piece in the huge exhibit hall.  It had been built, formed and cast in iron by an ambitious Italian sculptor named Guiseppe Moretti who was hungry for international recognition.  The statue was commissioned by the city of Birmingham to symbolize the city’s homage to the steel industry which formed the basis of its economy for so many years, and to the thousands of Italian workers who had immigrated there around the turn of the century.  Birmingham became the only city in the South watched over by the stern bearded face of  a Roman God.

When you zoom over downtown Birmingham today on the elevated portions of Interstates 65, 20, or 59, you see a different skyline from the one I saw when I rode through there as a child in the 1950’s.  The pointed apex of the original brick building of University Hospital still juts up in the center of downtown’s south side, but now a huddle of annexes with cross-bridge corridors gather around it on all sides for several blocks.  The giant iron statue of Vulcan still reaches up into the sky with his torch from atop a modernized tower at the peak of Red Mountain overlooking the city.

I felt the panic of vertigo when I stepped out onto the wobbly narrow balcony around the 120 ft. tower just below Vulcan’s feet when I visited there with my parents and my brother when I was five or six years old.  There was no elevator then.  We had to climb the iron staircase up a dozen flights amid the echoes of our own footsteps against the stone blocks of the original tower.

In those early days of high powered V-8 engines there was a public campaign to reduce the number of fatal car accidents on the streets and highways in and around Birmingham.  When dark fell over the city, Vulcan’s torch was lit—green, if no one had been killed that day; red, if someone had.  It was my older brother Chippy who informed me of these things.  We checked whenever we passed close enough to see Vulcan and his torch at night.

On the east side of the city the rusty girders, pits, tanks and loading docks of the Sloss Iron Works and its open-hearth furnaces stand quiet and mostly idle like the still heart of what once pounded blood into the city’s economy twenty-four hours a day.  When we passed the open hearths at night on Highway 78 returning to our suburban home in Crestwood, Chippy would tell me they were grilling hundreds of hamburgers there when I asked what they did on those glowing orange and red coals.  Four years older, he liked to pull tricks on me, but in the end he would always tell me the truth.  I was more grateful than disappointed when he told me about Santa Clause the year I turned six.

Crestwood was one of many suburbs that mushroomed up outside the old limits of the city in the fifties.  We went to school and church in Woodlawn four or five miles from our suburb and about halfway to downtown.  There were several boys in our neighborhood.  Just about all our fathers had served in World War II.  We spent hours playing army in the woods that surrounded the neighborhood.  The only girl my age who lived on the street was Carol Tillery.  She and I sometimes played “house” in her back yard, playing the roles of mother and father to a family of dolls.  For this I received a little chiding from the members of my usual platoon, and from Chippy, but it seemed logical to imagine that one day Carol and I would follow the footsteps of our own parents, have sons and daughters of our own, and move into another house a little farther down the street on Crest Hill Road in the only neighborhood we had ever known.

Several of us on Crest Hill Road turned six the same year, so our mothers made arrangements to form a carpool in which they or our fathers would take turns driving us to and from Minnie Holman School in Woodlawn.  These arrangements were discussed as our mothers talked over coffee at our kitchen tables up and down the street while we kids played in the yards or at the edges of the woods.

Once, Steve and Dave Uritz came over to our house.  Their mother visited mine in the kitchen over coffee.  It was probably my idea to build a campfire on the wooded hillside just beyond the old railroad bed that ran along the edge of the woods not quite beyond sight from the kitchen window of our house.  It was late in the fall of the year and the ground was covered with a thick carpet of dry fallen leaves.  Our campfire spread wild into a hungry circle of yellow flames and gray-white smoke.  There had been some good-sized woods fires near our neighborhood and I knew the damage and the terror they could cause.  I noticed that same panicked feeling in my chest that I had felt the time I stepped out onto the rickety balcony a hundred feet above the ground at the Vulcan Tower.  Our mothers came running up the hillside carrying brooms and rakes.  They put out our little forest fire in a few frantic minutes.  Steve and Dave were identical twins.  I couldn’t tell them apart before the wreck even though I saw them every day as we rode to Minnie Holman School in Woodlawn and back in our carpool.  Now they chanted in one indistinguishable voice and pointed at me.  “It was his idea!  It was his idea!”

I must have been the first one to the car that day in the middle of May in 1959.  Carol’s mother was waiting for us in her dark gray 1954 Plymouth parked along a curb  below the school with dozens of other cars waiting for other kids.  I took off my dark-green army-surplus pack and shoved it in the front seat beside Mrs. Tillery, then crawled in and sat beside her.  The twins came next.  They raced each other the last fifty feet to the car, scrambled in the same side door of the back seat and slammed it shut behind them.  I don’t know which one it was who got there first.  Carol was the last one to get to the car that day.  I guess that’s why she ended up on the right side of the front seat.  I heaved my army pack with my books and papers from the seat and set it on my lap to make more room for Carol to my right.  If Carol had gotten to the car before me, she would have sat directly beside her mother in the place where I was sitting, and things might have turned out quite differently.

I don’t remember if it was raining when we first got in the car that day.  Maybe that’s why we all ran to scramble into the car as fast as we could, heaving our book satchels in all directions.  In any case, by the time we got out of the hilly residential streets of Woodlawn with its houses from the 1920’s snuggled side by side and got on Highway 78, thick ominous clouds had darkened the day.  Rain pounded down in droves.  There was a swirling blur of taillights in front of us and on-coming headlights behind us.

It must have been about 2:20 in the afternoon.  I couldn’t see out over my army pack and the high hard dashboard of the Plymouth.  The evening shift at the Sloss Iron Works started at 2:30.

Highway 78, or “The Old Atlanta Highway” as it is now called, had four lanes divided by a narrow grassy median.  I really don’t remember anything of the collision itself except that there was a crash, a jarring, a jerking, spinning, sliding, and trembling; then a second jolt and smash, both impacts accompanied by a thud of hard-struck metal, a shatter of glass and a shower of fragments across the shifting pavement along with the grind and pop of roadside gravel from underneath the floorboards.

Then there was stillness.  All I could hear were the sounds of other cars coming to a stop on both sides of the four-lane highway, car doors slamming shut, trotting footsteps approaching , anonymous shoe soles slapping the wet pavement, and the constant drone of drizzling rain.  One of the twins was the first to speak.  “All out.  We had a wreck.”  His voice was chipper and matter-of-fact.  There was no reply.  I crawled across the seat to my right and out the door.  When I put my feet on the roadside gravel I saw that my right shoe was missing.  When I tried to stand up my right foot collapsed beneath the weight of the rest of my body.  I hopped a few steps on my left foot.  My right foot dangled loose and limp below the knee.  I bent down and lifted it in the palm of my left hand.  It was a dead log wearing a dirty white sock.

“What’s the matter with my leg?”  I asked the anonymous crowd of on-lookers who had huddled around me, all with that speechless look of tragic sickness on their faces.  Even though it had never before approached me, I knew that this was the face of death looking down at me.  One gray-haired man stepped forward, bent down before me and broke the awkward silence.  “It’s broken, Honey.”  He called me “Honey.”

A feeling of panic came over me.  I asked in a fretting voice, “Broken?  Can you die with a broken leg?”

“No Honey,” he answered in a kind voice.  “You can’t die with a broken leg.”  He picked me up in his arms and set me in the back seat of the car where the twins had been riding.  They were both on their feet outside the car, another huddle of curious people surrounding them, offering handkerchiefs to hold to their bleeding faces, reaching with umbrellas above their heads.  The gray-haired man knelt beside me between the open back door of the car and the seat itself, and explained that we would wait there out of the rain until help came.  More cars were stopping all along the sides of the highway.  A continuous line of faces approached, ducked down to glance inside the car, then quickly looked away and walked off shaking heads.

There was a distinct sour smell inside the car.  It was the smell of shattered glass, motor oil, gasoline, and blood.  The windshield was crumpled and shattered like a wad of wax paper.  Shards and slivers of glass covered the seats, the floorboards and the dashboard.  Drops and splatters of blood covered the seat beside me.  The back of Mrs. Tillery’s head was leaning awkwardly to the rear on the back of the driver’s seat.  It rolled from side to side as she moaned, groaned and cried, repeating over and over, “No.  No.  No.  No.”

Sirens approached from the direction of downtown.  There was a lot of moving and maneuvering of huddles of people and parked cars to make way for the arriving ambulances and police cars.  Two young men were driving the ambulance I was to ride in.  “Just let him ride up here with us,” one of the drivers said, as though I were an afterthought to the more-serious cases.  So, I rode on the front seat of the station wagon ambulance between the driver and his assistant.  They wore no uniforms or white jackets, just ordinary sport shirts and slacks.

I could hear the scream and whir of the siren shouting out in urgency all the way to University Hospital on the south side of downtown.  For years afterward I was fascinated with the sound of the sirens of police cars, fire trucks, and especially ambulances.  When I sped down the street on my bicycle for the next several years, it was usually to the siren wail of my own voice.

We had already entered the labyrinth of busy downtown streets when the attendant to my right looked over his left shoulder into the rear of the vehicle and said to the driver, “One of ‘em’s fallin’ off the stretcher back there.”

“It don’t matter,” the driver answered, “They’re both dead.”  He sped on through the afternoon traffic and the rain with a fixed expression on his face.

At the emergency room a platoon of nurses and orderlies hurriedly wheeled a high narrow cot to the ambulance where I was laid on my back and secured with canvas straps.  Inside, as soon as a young doctor looked down at me, I informed him, “I’ve just got a broken leg.”  One of the attendants took a pair of scissors and cut a slit up the right leg of my blue jeans all the way from the ankle to the inseam at the crotch.  I wondered what Mother would say about the jeans.  I was always getting into trouble for grass stains, rips and tears.

They placed a two-foot board on each side of my leg and wrapped it from the ankle to the thigh with gauze.  I heard someone say they would have to operate to set the leg.  They left me lying there behind some curtained partitions and rushed off to someone else.  This was when I noticed the tiny shavings and slivers of glass all over me, in my eyebrows, on my shirt, and in my navel.  My face and hands were covered with scratches and small cuts as though I had run through the blackberry patch at the edge of the woods behind our house.

When something terrible happens, rumor usually travels faster than truth.   When it got to be about 3:00 and we still had not gotten home from school, my mother decided to drive toward the school following our usual route over Highway 78 to see if anything had happened.  Just as she was about to turn onto the highway from Crest Hill Road, she was stopped by Mr. Cornet, our neighbor from two houses up the street, who was driving home in the opposite direction.  When he recognized Mother, he flashed his lights for her to stop and rolled down his window to speak.  His intention must have been to save her the time and trouble of getting stuck in the traffic on the highway.  He called in a commanding voice from the opposite lane, “Don’t go up on the highway, Jane.  There’s been a terrible wreck with four children killed.”

Mother was eight months pregnant with my younger brother Murray and was, of course, frantic when she came running up beside my high bed on wheels in the corridor outside the operating room at University Hospital.  Desperate tears rolled down her cheeks even though she was laughing when she bent down, kissed me, and squeezed my hands.  “Don’t worry, Mother.  You can’t die with a broken leg.”

The next thing I remember, I was lying in a room on the fourth floor children’s ward of the hospital.  A hard white cast covered my right leg from the ankle to the hip.  It was dark outside.  I was sharing the room with Steve Uritz whose face was covered with zippers and bandages.  He had been sewn up with more than fifty stitches.  A glass partition separated our beds.  His brother Dave had gotten only a few scratches to his face and was sent home with their dad.

They must have allowed only one parent in the room at a time.  Daddy came in and talked to me for a while with great kindness and affection.  Then Mother came in.  She asked me which of them I would like to spend the night in the room with me because one parent could stay all night in the hospital room with a child, but only one.  I told her I preferred to have my father stay.  There was a good deal of talking and discussion both within my hearing and outside the room between Mother and Daddy, and with Mrs. Uritz.  As it turned out, neither Mother nor Daddy stayed.  Mrs. Uritz stayed.  Mother’s late stage of pregnancy must have been a factor in the decision.

Before she lay down on the lounge chair beyond the foot of our beds, Mrs. Uritz told me to just wave my hand and she would see it through the glass partition between the beds if I “needed anything during the night.”  I wasn’t to get out of bed for any reason.  She held up a glass bottle about the size and shape of a pint milk bottle to make sure I understood.

I dozed for no more than a few sporadic moments that night.  Sometime during the wee quiet hours I was overcome with need.  I tried to ignore it, but after holding it for an hour or two I couldn’t stand it any longer.  The I-V they had given me during the operation to set my leg must have filled me with liquid.  I reluctantly gave in and waved my hand where I thought Mrs. Uritz would see it through the glass partition from where she lay on a reclining armchair beside her own son.  I would have preferred a nurse.  A nurse would have been a total stranger and a professional at this kind of service.  Mrs. Uritz was a neighbor from the other end of my own street, the mother of my playmates and the driver of our carpool once or twice a week.  It was humiliating to have to ask her for such personal assistance.  I timidly waved a second time.  Nothing.  Then again, and a couple of minutes later.  Nothing, only the dark sterile room with faint lines of light radiating from the linoleum floor under the door to the hallway, and the distant murmur of talk among the late-shift employees far down the halls.  I lay there examining the bland walls and the ceiling.  There was a window with open Venetian blinds, its glass dotted with raindrops, facing Red Mountain to the south.  Vulcan stood there on his tower, his cast iron beard jutting from his chin, his blacksmith’s hammer in his left hand, his torch lit with blood-red light raised high above his head with his outstretched right arm as though signaling from the earth to heaven.  Finally, I knocked on the glass partition with my knuckles.  Mrs. Uritz came to my side and offered me the bottle.  Embarrassed, I acquiesced.  She poked me into the short neck of the bottle with the ice cold fingers of a complete stranger.

The next morning the sun was out when Mother, Daddy, and Chippy came into the room.  I had heard that they give kids a lot of Jell-O, ice cream, and juice in hospitals, so that’s what I requested for breakfast.  I got only a small cup of juice.  I could sense a strange expression on the faces of the members of my family.  It was something similar to the expressions on the faces of the anonymous bystanders who had huddled around me at the wreck.

Mother and Daddy left the room to sign some papers for my release at the nurses’ station down the hall.  Chippy stayed in the room.  He had picked up a morning newspaper in the main lobby.  He held up the front page for me to see.  There was a black and white picture of the Tillery’s Plymouth with portions of two other mangled cars showing on either side.  Above the picture were sprawled the large block letters of the headline:  “Three killed on highway 78.”  Chippy told me the basic facts of the accident as they were presented in the article.  Four steel workers were speeding on their way to work for the evening shift when the driver lost control in the rain and skipped across the median into the oncoming cars in the opposite lanes.  Two of the men had been killed.  Chippy went on, now reading aloud directly from the paper.  “Among the deceased are Frank Quarles, 42, and Ben Lowery, 37, both of Leeds; and Carol Tillery, age seven, of 1416 Crest Hill Road.”  I didn’t believe him at first.  I thought he might be kidding me.  But I also knew that he always told me the truth in the end, terrible as it might be.

______________________________________________________________

James Miller Robinson has had poems and short prose in Texas ReviewRio Grande ReviewSouthern Humanities ReviewGeorge Washington Review, and Kansas Quarterly.  He has two chapbooks of poetry—The Caterpillars at Saint Bernard (Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press, 2014) and Boca del Rio in the Afternoon (Finishing Line Press, 2015).  He works as an interpreter/translator registered with the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts.

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Rimbaud in Aden

By J.C. Bostrom

Perhaps he entertains himself by watching the ink run through the rivulets of his fingerprints on his writing hand. Pink fleshy lines rise above the black ink, like reeds through streams, or, maybe it is the ink that seeps beneath, and into his skin; something akin to puddles sinking into dry earth until it dries out again, leaving caked cracks to face the sun. Or, perhaps, he doesn’t do this at all. Perhaps he presses his fingers down onto a piece of paper. Lifts his fingers slowly, sticky paper following after them, tacky tar-like noises as the membrane of ink separates, and compares the lines on the page to the ones imbedded into his flesh. Perhaps he notices a crease on the tip of his middle finger he had previously been unaware of, a crease that cuts across the swirls in a straight line and he wonders when that happened. Maybe there is no crease and just a missing splash of ink.

Perhaps he rocks back in his chair, finding the exact balance between pitching forward and falling backward. Perhaps there is a weak leg that will tip the scales sending the chair out from under him. Or maybe there is a worn groove in the floor that weak leg might slide into. Or maybe his own strength and forced overcompensation will decide whether he lands exhilaratingly on his back with rigid pegs digging into his muscles or disappointedly on his feet in which case he will have to tip his chair back again. Or maybe he doesn’t.

He might drop splotches of ink onto a piece of paper instead of his hand. He might watch as something that, when handled with practiced fingers, crafts winding swirls and sharp corners that in some way, shape, or form tell stories but when merely dropped onto a page create bubble-topped voids with spider-vein edges. He might watch as it flows and catches through the fibers, not unlike the ink that may or may not be on his fingertips, but he also might not do that. Perhaps he does none of these things.

There is very little to do. Very little to look at. And even less to contemplate; it’s how paper and skin simultaneously, and with fervid stupefaction, become intriguing and perhaps, he decides, really, what he desperately needs is a drink and not a window with a view. Except he cannot afford a drink, not on a paltry few francs.

So perhaps, instead, he contemplates all of these things and perhaps he does none of them and instead chooses to write to his friends about the nothingness and coffee beans.

Aden

 

August 25, 1880

Dear friends,

I fancy I recently posted a letter to you, telling how I unfortunately had to leave Cyrus and how I arrived here after having travelled down the Red Sea.

Here, I am working in the office of a coffee importer. The company agent is a retired general. Business is good, and is going to get better. I don’t earn much, it comes to about six francs a day, but if I stay here, and I have to stay, it is so far from everywhere that I will have to stay a couple of months just to make few hundred francs so I can leave if I have to well, if I stay, I think they will give me a responsible job, maybe an office in another city, and that way I would be able to make something a little quicker.

Aden is a horrible rock, without a single blade of grass or a drop of free water: we drink distilled sea water. The heat is extreme, especially in June and September, which are the dog days here. The constant temperature, night and day, in a very cool and well-ventilated office, is 35 degrees. Everything is very expensive, and so forth. But there is nothing I can do: I am like a prisoner here, and I will certainly have to stay least three months before getting on my own two feet again, or getting better job. How are things at home? Is the harvest finished. Tell me what is new.

Arthur Rimbaud

 

He might get up from his desk to wash the ink from his hands. The white cloth that rests next to the pitcher and basin might be tinted with black smudges far less opaque than the splotches he did not drip on the sheets of precious paper and, for whatever reason, perhaps it is their dilute color or the way in which the smudges look like poor mimics of his fingerprints, but he hates their inexactitude, and instead experiences the water as it dries in the palms of his hands.

He rotates his wrist and watches as the small pool of water slinks, thinner but not unlike ink, around the basin of his palm. He places his hand into the sliver of light coming in through his room window. The small pool of water heats in his hand and is lukewarm when he presses both palms together, one hand cooler than the other.

 

He thinks, perhaps, he might take a stroll to the beach. Clear his head. The beach is not too far and it might do him good to remove the coffee bean scent that seems stamped to his nostrils. Then again, he might not. But there is time left in the day to decide so he tips back in his reclaimed seat and hopes the leg is not weak.

______________________________________________________________

J.C. Bostrom is currently a BA Fiction Major at Columbia College Chicago, Production Editor for CCC’s award winning anthology, Hair Trigger, and launching Editor-in-Chief of the online publication, Hair Trigger 2.0. Her fiction is forthcoming in Habitat Magazine, and can be found on her website jcbostrom.com.

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Sultana Raza

The Silent One

He stares

more silent than the sand

slithering and sliding

around him

through centuries

of polishing particles

from the dawn

of the Desertic Times

gazing steadfast

at the same unique point

on the horizon

even as the universe

dances around him;

but he waits,

with infinitive patience

for the galactic dance

to come full circle,

before he’ll be allowed

to blink just the once or

to give even the hint

of a secret smile.

First published in Beyond Imagination in July 2015

 

Remains of a Princess 

Filled with admiration and fascination

were those that

disturbed the ambitious princess

who was obliged to partake of poison;

refused to divulge her

race’s secrets, giving access to

other dimensions to Roman predators

walking in beauty

does not always lead to resting in peace

for more than a few centuries at a time

as those once under the Romans

came awe-struck to

unearth and remove

the bundle that remained

new, academic warriors

in service to humanity

whose pride made them dig deep

for the corporeal remains

hiding inviolable secrets inside

happy and proud

in the knowledge that

the ancient beauty

lies suspended on a glass plate

blissful in their ignorance

of the real identity of bones

wrapped in mists of

forgery, subterfuge,

hoodwinking all who pass before her

even with unbowed heads,

for mummies do not speak.

A different version first published in Ancient Heart Magazine in 2006.

 

Sun Among Women

History is chock-full of despots male,

That paid writers praised; it’s become stale.

 

Only kings were acclaimed; she chose to defy.

Determined, decisive, she wasn’t shy.

She showed the empire, a woman could rule,

While creating rare pearls in poetry’s pool.

Strategic policies could easily devise,

Sifted hard truth from diplomatic lies.


Her name stamped on coins, phenomena rare,

Her new ideas, emperor would share.

Governing country, played main role,

Built many monuments, gardens for the soul.

 

Ruthless, scheming, ambitious, perchance.

To no one’s tunes, she had to dance.

Hunted and rode, invented perfumes,

Broke tradition, fashioned costumes.

 

Juggled hundred spices, new dishes unrolled,

Sensitive to arts, co-ruler broke the mould.

 

Though hemmed in by decorum, to new heights could rise,

Combined left and right brain, for solutions wise.


Emotional intelligence went a long way,

Empire was stronger, kept enemies at bay.

Faced king’s justice, with equanimity,

Wrote many verses, sad or witty.

 

Architectural gem, for progenitor made,

Emotional foundations of Taj Mahal laid.

Personified excellence metaphorically,

She has no parallel, literally.

 

Defended borders, ‘light of the world,’

In history, though veiled, her voice has been heard.

First published in Ecriture Feminine issue of Muse India in Nov. 2015.

_____________________________________________________________

Of Indian origin, Sultana Raza has an M.A. in English Literature. Her articles have appeared in Flick Feast (UK), Sound on Sight(USA), the Peter Roe Series (Tolkien Society UK), Gnarled OakLe Jeudi, the Wort and paperjam in English and French. 

Sultana Raza’s poems have appeared in Ancient Heart Magazine (Australia), India Currents (USA), London Grip (UK), Literary Gazette(USA), Caduceus (Ed. Yale University, USA), Beyond Bree, (an American MENSA newsletter), the Peter Roe Series, (Tolkien Society UK), The Whirlwind Review (USA), Silver Leaves Journal #5 (Canada), Muse India, and The New Verse News. Recently, more have been published in Catch and Release (Columbia’s online Journal),
 Allegro, and Indiana Voices Journal

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