Tag Archives: Issue 28

FICTION BY JOE REGAN

A Vocation

 

Pupil: I’d prefer you to draw it though, and then explain it. If it’s no trouble, of course.

 

Teacher: I think you just like wasting time.

 

Pupil: But surely it isn’t wasting time if it will help me?

 

Teacher: Let me explain it first, and then if it’s not clear I’ll draw it.

 

Pupil: Please just draw it first. I’m what you’d call a visual learner.

 

Teacher: Pass the pencil.

 

Pupil: You don’t mind?

 

Teacher: Just pass it. So look, we have a train hurtling down this track.

 

Pupil: The stubbiest little train in living history.

 

Teacher: Why do you keep saying ‘living history’? Where’d you pick that up?

 

Pupil: I imagine somewhere.

 

Teacher: The train is flying down this track here. And it’s going to hit these guys who-

 

Pupil: It’s a runway train?

 

Teacher: Runaway, you mean. Yes, it’s a runaway train, and these five lads here-

 

Pupil: Of yeh, course, because a runway train would be full of models.

 

Teacher: That’s very sharp. I thought you said this diagram would help you? It’s only distracted you so far.

 

Pupil: Is your girlfriend a model?

 

Teacher: No, she isn’t.

 

Pupil: Too fat?

 

Teacher: No, not too fat. She’d be too short though.

 

Pupil: Anyway, please go on.

 

Teacher: Don’t ask me about my girlfriend.

 

Pupil: Here comes this train.

 

Teacher: The train’s coming, and it’s going to wipe out these five chaps here, unless-

 

Pupil: What are they up to, anyway?

 

Teacher: Probably engineers. Though that’s not the crucial concern here.

 

Pupil: Or twitchers, maybe. Wait, is that what you call people who spend all day watching trains?

 

Teacher: Twitchers are bird watchers.

 

Pupil: Ok.

 

Teacher: Shall I carry on?

 

Pupil: Not very bright of them, is it, to stand about like that? Amateur hour.

 

Teacher: Listen, you’re wasting my time.

 

Pupil: A glib little saying, “amateur hour”. Aren’t you going to ask me where I picked it up?

 

Teacher: A glib little saying? And no, I’m not.

 

Pupil: Well then please, do carry on.

 

Teacher: Unless you pull a lever and divert the train onto this second set of tracks here. Where there’s just this one guy.

 

Pupil: The lone wolf of the engineering community.

 

Teacher: Yes, if you like.

 

Pupil: Would you mind drawing a control tower?

 

Teacher: Why?

 

Pupil: I need somewhere to sit comfortably while I pull this lever.

 

Teacher: You’re testing my patience now.

 

Pupil: I’ll draw it then. There you go. Although it’s got a sort of death camp feel now. It all suddenly feels chillier, don’t you think?

 

Teacher: I have to email progress reports to the agency.

 

Pupil: Do you know what the opposite of a death camp is?

 

Teacher: Detailing your work, engagement, what we’ve yet to cover.

 

Pupil: What’s the photographic negative of a death camp?

 

Teacher: What are you talking about?

 

Pupil: I asked you twice what you’d oppose a death camp to.

 

Teacher: Is that a real question?

 

Pupil: It’s a sanitarium.

 

Teacher: Very well.

 

Pupil: There’s one connected to where my family live in Moscow. Everyone who stays there smokes, though. So they can’t be getting that much better.

 

Teacher: We need to get this work done.

 

Pupil: Here comes the train.

 

Teacher: Yes, and it’s going to hit these guys here, unless you choose to flick your lever and divert it to this second set of tracks. So. Do you divert the train?

 

Pupil: And hit lone wolf here?

 

Teacher: And hit lone wolf here.

 

Pupil: Sure thing.

 

Teacher: And why is that?

 

Pupil: Because these guys are closer to my watchtower. It would kill the vibe around my tower if I let the train hit them, wouldn’t it?

 

Teacher: Did you talk like this to the last tutor?

 

Pupil: Try not to bring that colossal wreck into this. You know what he’d often ask me to do? To “use my head”. My head!

 

Teacher: What’s wrong with that?

 

Pupil: Ah, come now. Think about what he was asking of me! What was this imagined faculty that had declined the services of my own brain? I am a fucking head! No, keep that filthy dualist out of this. If you don’t mind, of course.

 

Teacher: Let’s stick to the exercise.

 

Pupil: Yes. Look, obviously saving five is better than saving one. Even a monster would concur with that.

 

Teacher: Which is a kind of moral reasoning based on…

 

Pupil: Keynesianism.

 

Teacher: Now we both know you don’t think it’s that. How depressing to come so late to this game of yours. You’ve been brilliantly convincing.

 

Pupil: Utilitarianism. And I’ve no idea what you’re implying by that.

 

Teacher: Lovely. So you’d make that choice. But now the plot thickens.

 

Pupil: The thot thickens, you mean.

 

Teacher: What?

 

Pupil: Well, that seems to be the general trend anyway, if Instagram’s anything to go by.

 

Teacher: I don’t understand why that’s funny?

 

Pupil: It’s not. Please, carry on.

 

Teacher: The plot thickens, because there’s a second scenario. Imagine there’s a bridge here.

 

Pupil: Hand. Pencil. Draw.

 

Teacher: Fine, then, a bridge that starts and ends here, built over this first track where the five friendlier engineers are working.

 

Pupil: No, no, not like that. Where’s the infinite care that should go into every piece of work we produce, as our teachers ask us for? This won’t do. Pass me that rubber please.

 

Teacher: Hurry up.

 

Pupil: Yours looked like it had been built in a real hurry. Mine looks planned out, see? Yours didn’t seem to have had a planning stage at all.

 

Teacher: Finished?

 

Pupil: You bet.

 

Teacher: At the top of this bridge, then, is a considerably fat man.

 

Pupil: Pass the pencil please- this calls for a professional. The considerably fat man will need even more care than the bridge.

 

Teacher: Hurry up.

 

Pupil: Big enough?

 

Teacher: You’re being ridiculous. Make him normal sized. You know your parents have asked to see any notes we make.

 

Pupil: Better?

 

Teacher: Better.

 

Pupil: Yes, much better. Seems like your fat shaming helped him along a bit. What’s his role, anyway? He’s probably too unfit to be darting around on the tracks with the others?

 

Teacher: He’s fat because he needs to be able to block the train should you decide to push him off this bridge.

 

Pupil: I’ll do nothing of the sort! Anyway, I rarely leave my watchtower these days.

 

Teacher: What are you talking about now? Can’t you just be serious for a second? Because we’re getting to the crux of the matter.

 

Pupil: Fine, I’m listening. But you’ve shocked me to my core.

 

Teacher: If you push him off this bridge, you’d be saving the group of workers here.

 

Pupil: Where does the lone wolf of the engineering world come into this?

 

Teacher: He doesn’t.

 

Pupil: Lone wolf is out of the picture now?

 

Teacher: Yes.

 

Pupil: Then I’ll need the old rubber to indicate that.

 

Teacher: Christ, hurry the fuck up!

 

Pupil: Your mask just slipped!

 

Teacher: Please, just hurry up.

 

Pupil: Not before you adjust your mask a little- your pain is still visible. I need that studious detachment that used to be your hallmark.

 

Teacher: Please, just get on with it. We’ve absolutely no time for this. But you’ve put up a great show, a really great show. You should throw yourself busily into some youth theatre.

 

Pupil: You feeling a little like Minerva’s Owl?

 

Teacher: What?

 

Pupil: Flapping your wings in the twilight of our lesson?

 

Teacher: What?

 

Pupil: You know, the idea that things are only understood once it’s too late. Minerva being the Roman goddess of wisdom, who was typically represented as a darling little owl. Off it flaps in the dusk, sure, but, you know, hate to ask and everything, and it’s probably none of my business, but is it perhaps too little too late? That sort of thing. Hegel is probably better on this than me.

 

Teacher: Listen, if you’re going to rub him out, get on with it.

 

Pupil: Yes, you’re right, can’t put it off forever. One of life’s dreamers, and driven out of it so brutally. Goodbye old friend.

 

Teacher: I guess we’ll just have to go over the hour until we’re done.

 

Pupil: If it comes to that, then I’ll understand. I’ll go anywhere you go.

 

Teacher: The trash you talk. I’d much rather we get this done in the remaining ten minutes.

 

Pupil: That seems to me the thing to strive for.

 

Teacher: So for this essay they’ve set you, you need to explain why it would be less acceptable to throw this man to his death than it would be to flip the lever in the first scenario.

 

Pupil: I feel like you’ve put me on the spot, but it just kinda like feels worse, you know, to kill something that’s bigger? How’s my valley girl accent?

 

Teacher: Distracting. And you won’t be awarded marks for that reasoning, but I suppose you know that already. I’ll be going now.

 

Pupil: No, you’re right, let’s be serious for a second. I just couldn’t throw that lump to his death, even if it meant saving the merry five. Couldn’t get my hands dirty like that. Yes, I see the instructive force of the thing now. Taken a while, but my eyes have been opened. There’s a qualitative difference, or at least I imagine there is felt to be one by those who have struggled merrily through this dilemma like I have, between flipping the switch and slaughtering the lump.

 

Teacher: There we are then. You’ve got all you need. Make sure you hand this essay in on time.

 

Pupil: We’ve still got a few minutes.

 

Teacher: I really should be going now.

 

Pupil: If you leave I’ll blow my brains out.

 

Teacher: What?

 

Pupil: Haha, come on now! With what indeed? I heard that line a film. Some blonde was irked by a husband’s double life. There were lots of shots of Central Park. He spent a lot of time brooding in this diner with a coffee he never touched.

 

Teacher: Why am I even here?

 

Pupil: The thing every tutee dreads hearing. Like sitting on a plane and having your pilot ask over the PA what it’s all ultimately for.

 

Teacher: I’ll see myself out.

 

Pupil: Aren’t you even going to set me a parting spelling test? My other tutor would do that. Consolidation of learning, and all that.

 

Teacher: I won’t bill for the whole hour.

 

Pupil: And that’s the thanks I get for refusing to do something monstrous?

 

Teacher: The agency will be in touch.

 

Pupil: I’ll head them off.

 

 

Pupil’s report:

 

With no family in sight, and with the prospect of yet another middling English boarding school all set to grudgingly accept me, I need some stability like that which Mr Gough is able to offer. Gough’s a distillation of everything true pedagogy should combine: a terse wit; a fanatic about his subject; a man who lets the teaching mask slip occasionally, who isn’t afraid to open up about his own life, who is prepared to let daylight, from time to time, in upon the magic.

 

We’ve covered some fantastically insightful topics, such as his girlfriend’s struggles with heightism in the modelling world, and the tragedy of male suicide, which he bore out with a terrible tale of a man who, after having gone to seed, found himself on a bridge facing the void below; we looked at the historically uneasy alignment of art and fascism, which I’ve no doubt he could example with another penetrating illustration of his- although the hour, as it so often does, bore down on us with its terrible weight at the point at which he’d been about to pick up the pencil again.

 

But of course the surest sign of improvement (and of a parent’s tuition money paying off) is the student’s ability to not only recall but apply what he’s covered. And this is what I’m proud of having done with Gough, and why I’m sure he’s the ideal tutor to lead me to success in all of my essay-based subjects. An example? During our first lesson we covered the bildungsroman (you know, that literary form which sees a gauche little waif develop into an impressive and mature adult). Well, I got the hang of the thing alright, and practice makes perfect, of course, so I thought: what better way to really get to grips with the bildungsroman than by turning our very lesson into one? So I played the ingenue at first (complex ideas slipping through my clammy grasp, that sort of thing) and slowly developed under Gough’s nose into one who can give a fairly decent account of himself.

 

The Goughster also has a great grasp of what makes a phrase glib and unattractive; he just seems to really care about the sentence. Which got me to thinking once he’d left about other sayings that I just can’t bear, such as when people who otherwise have no understanding of marine ecosystems or even the natural world in general talk in that satisfied way about whales breaching because they’ve heard it said by someone, somewhere, that that’s what whales do; or the positively medieval idea that muscle turns into fat; or calling anything that slows your progress Kafkaesque (two train delays, my dear friend, wasn’t what our Franz had in mind when he was busy allegorising the complex bureaucracy of Austro-Hungary, when he was busy seeing in advance all of the totalitarian madness of last century’s mid-point). Or perhaps the worst for me: I just don’t want to bring kids into this world– a world that has never been safer, saner or more hygienic. But of course kids will continue to be brought in by the boatload every minute- because, let’s face it, words are the cheapest thing there are.

 

In sum then (and I think this is the best thing one man can say of another): Mr Gough is not just someone I can happily share my desk with for an hour each week, but also someone I’d happily go for a beer with afterwards. If only the fucker didn’t keep rushing out the door!

 

 

Joe is an English, London-based writer, and a recent MA Literature graduate of King’s College London. He is currently writing a novel which will explore the lives of three generations of lighthouse keepers living on one of Georgia’s barrier islands throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Advertisements

FICTION BY NICOLA BOURNE

Whale Song

 

Something’s different.  Approaching the beach I feel it immediately.  There’s something unknown, like a song caught on a breeze that you can’t quite hear.  The wind whips my hair, slapping me across my cheeks.  Salt is thick in the air, it tastes as bitter as the cold, but even so, a large crowd has already turned out.

I came as soon as I heard, running from my stall in the harbour, not even considering that I was leaving it wide open.  The man in front of me rushes, accidentally kicking a child’s crab bucket over, causing crying from the boy and crabs to slip all over the walkway, unable to tell the direction of the sea. We scurried away from the harbour, to the point where industry gives way to wide beaches flanked by lawns, promenades and the suntrap making windbreakers. And then ¾ she was there.  A demonstrative humpback whale beached on tiny pebbles.

There’s no blood. That’s the first thing I think. I don’t know why I had assumed there would be.  Actually, I lie.  There’s no blood was my second thought, my first was a half-formed thing ¾ a shock, a sharp intake of air, the size!

‘It was the thunderstorm last night.’ an authoritative voice says. ‘Nothing like a summer storm to upset the sea.’

‘No, it’s the changes in fishing patterns.  It’s pushing shoals around and the whales are following!’ another shouts.

The crowd swells, the unexpected joy of seeing a humpback whale palpable.  It is like a myth for the Kent coastline, as surprising as a mermaid leaping onto the shore.  Parents hold babies high to get a good picture.  People bring snacks and beers.  The thought of usually unseen creatures being close by ¾ mating, calving, calling, singing, excites everyone’s imagination.  History collapses, it’s like nothing has come before or will come after. There is only the whale, us and now.

She lets out a deep penetrative sound as she tries to lift her body, pleading it to shift but only succeeding in cementing herself further onto the beach.  I want to touch her, hold her, gently stroke her as you would a crying baby, but I don’t.  I daren’t.  Instead, I stand as close to her as I can, hoping that my awe will somehow help to calm her.

When you live near the sea, you can’t spend long periods of time away from its wake.  Otherwise, you find the ebb and flow of the waves get caught in your mind.  They swell and drag thoughts from your abyss of memories.  Your body feels the motion, like the seasick feeling of early pregnancy.  Is this what you are doing whale?  Groaning to imitate water vibrations pushing against your slippery surface, desperately trying to believe you’re still in the sea.

Are others out there singing in ethereal tones?  We’ll find her.  Keep looking.  She must be here.  Or maybe they know that you are stuck on the shore, surrounded by helpless strangers and so they swim in circles nearby, also powerless to help you.  Perhaps they are singing to you, songs of love from beneath the sea.  Maybe you are comforted knowing they are near or possibly, knowing the pain caused by loss, it scares you more.  I know that fear, whale.  It does strange things to you that only later you can see.  Only with hindsight do you realise what a selfish emotion grief is.  Only following hours of crying on your own and ignoring friends telling you, it’s not your fault, do you realise how isolating grief is.  The word miscarriage always makes me think of, a miscarriage of justice.  It’s not fitting for a baby.  But you, being here, crying deep calls to your family, it feels unjust.  And I know you will leave your family forever wondering what should have been.

I desperately search for articles on my phone.  They all say the same.  Eco-systems are failing, falling, taking the ocean with them.  The sea is no longer the same.  In a healthy ocean, your blubber allows you to absorb nutrients and strengthen yourself as you glide through the water.  Like a magnet, the blubber draws in what is near.  It draws in the pesticides.  Plastic.  Heavy metals.  Your whole being becomes a landfill site of toxic waste poisoning you from within.  Another deep vibrating groan shakes the ground.  Anger washes over me as parents continue to pose their children for pictures. People touch you.  Hungry seagulls peck at your skin.  We both flinch in discomfort.  Humans and whales are not supposed to be this close together, but now you have surfaced, I cannot turn away.  Despite myself, my fingers hover over the screen of my phone.  I desperately want to keep this moment, to hold it forever, before it disappears into the catalogue of memories labelled things that splashed the edges of my experience.

Defying the cordon that has been erected to keep us apart, people swim out as the tide climbs higher, looking for a different view.  The narrative doesn’t change but the level of fear does.  When whales beach in other parts of the world they attract sharks.  Their weakest point and sharks really do begin to circle, getting ferociously close to the brink.  ‘Should we be worried?’ People fret.  ‘Will sharks infest our tiny seaside town?’  ‘Are there more dangers to come?’  The tourist board say no.  The marine biologists say yes, and I feel like I am in the opening of Jaws.  Teenagers start humming the theme tune, although they all admit they’ve never seen the movie.  They laugh hysterically whilst shoving shoulders and daring each other into the water.  The whale protests again sounding angrier than before.

 

***

 

‘A humpback whale’s central nervous system is so intricate that they can’t be euthanised.  It’ll just cause great and long-suffering if we try,’ a marine biologist from Scotland says.  There’s a suggestion of strapping dynamite to the whale.  Apparently it’s what they do in Australia, but it’s decided it would be too unpalatable for tourists.  The small pool of scientists that have collected around the cordon all agree a shot to the head definitely won’t work because of her size.

Everything is larger on a whale: their bones, their teeth, their soul.  A spirit that spreads itself out, like tentacles filling every crevice of the whales being before spreading through the ocean.  Wrapping around.  Maybe that’s why it takes so long for a whale to die; there’s so much soul to unpick. Not like humans, whose souls can leave in a heartbeat ¾ quicker, if enough force is used.

It is the worst kind of nightmare.  The one where you are falling from the sky but instead of waking, you hit the ground.  Instead of dying, you live.  You live and lie motionless knowing the only outcome is a slow and painful death.  And people take photos.

So sad.

When will someone make a decision about my whale?

As night draws in, people start fading.  I slip under the cordon, slowly edging closer till I am sitting next to her.  It seems unimaginable that until now she had been an unseen part of my world.  Sitting together I think of where she has come from.  Her home.  Her family, still singing.  Then I think of a home I once I had, the family I nearly had.  I pull myself out of the dark thought and back to my whale.  I know how she feels, to be in ruins.  To lay broken even though you still appear whole. Her deep, laboured breaths batter at the inside of my rib cage.  She swims around my mind, diving into the darkest depths, splashing memories I’d submerged back to the surface, her tail tickling them open again.  There is no ignoring the deeply hurt part of myself now.  The part that clung so tightly to the grief of a child I never got to hold.  I stay still for hours, unable to do anything.  Only sit.  And watch.

I wake with a start, the cold sea air damp on my skin, sand in my mouth, salt biting my tongue, a nightmare still swimming around my mind.  I dreamt that the marine biologist cut open my whale and inside she found thousands upon thousands of human handprints burning her from the inside.  I push away the dream and the blanket someone must have laid on me.  The crowds are gone.  Only a few scientists remain.  Even sat next to her, my whale’s body looks like a dent in the dark.  I listen to her slow laboured irregular breaths, panting to me, don’t leave me alone, don’t leave me alone.  Silently I promise her I won’t.

“Nature will run its course” has become the phrase repeated over and over again by the scientists, the tourist board, even me.  It is one we can all trust.  One we can all work with.  Believe in.  “Nature will know what to do.”

And my heart breaks because of how solitary death is.  How it isolates and holds things apart.  And because of things that have happened to me and because of things that didn’t.  The one thing that maybe never will.  The one thing that perhaps never will.  Sitting on the moonlit pebbles, I wait for the moment from which all others will follow.  Already, I feel something has shifted.  An old piece is being let go.  I felt lighter as the dream of what could have been begins to be swept away, like sand being pulled from the shore.

I look out to the sea, daylight a flicker on the furthest point of the horizon.  I let the calm sound of the waves wash over me.  And I try to remember that somewhere out there, none of this matters.  That somewhere out there, whales still sing.

 

 

Nicola Bourne recently completed her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge and holds a First Class BA in Creative Writing & English Literature from the University of Hertfordshire. She was runner-up for the Louis De Bernieres Prize for Fiction and has had short-story and memoir pieces published in publications including The Selkie, Clover & White and The Huffington Post, as well as her first non-fiction title The Fabulous Woman’s Guide Through Cancer.

FICTION BY MATHER SCHNEIDER

THREE FLASHES FROM THE CAB

 

I take an elderly man to the movie theater. Not just any movie theater, but the FANCY movie theater. The one where they have big leather seats with push-out foot rests, menus of food you can order from a built-in microphone, personal light, wait-people, even BOOZE! Yes, these places do exist. I’ve never been inside, but I’ve heard second hand.

He complains the whole way there.

‘It’s a good concept, he says, but when you put your foot rest out the wait-staff always knocks it when they walk by, blocking your view and often times spilling food and drinks, especially if it’s a dark movie, with many night scenes. They pretty much have to hire really short people for the wait staff, and I have noticed quite a turnover rate. The people sitting next to you are always turning on their lights and “discussing” what they want from the menu, RIGHT AFTER THE MOVIE STARTS. Do you want ham or turkey dear? Mayo? Mustard? What kind of merlots do you have today? Also, if you are sitting next to a beer drinker you can hear their burps all through the movie. And when they check ID’s, oh that’s like a 5-minute procedure right there! The prices are extremely high but your actual experience is sub-par and oftentimes quite irritating. Sometimes people will want to “cash-out” before the end of the movie and that’s annoying, especially if they find a discrepancy in the billing. That sure is a treat!’

‘What movie are you going to see?’ I ask.

‘Doesn’t matter’ he says. ‘I just got to get out of the house and be around people for a while.’

 

*

 

I pick up another guy from Buffalo Wild Wings. He tells me the address of where he lives.

‘How old do you think I am?’ he says.

‘About 50?’

‘I’m 84!’

That threw me. He really looked great! It didn’t appear that he had any plastic surgery done, he just looked naturally youthful. Hell, he didn’t look much older than me.

‘Congratulations!’ I say. ‘When you were 30, did you look 8?’

‘I may not look my age, but I feel it! I’ve lost everybody. Are you married?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, cherish her every minute. I lost my dear Patricia 3 years ago. I’m all alone now.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Before that, I lost my mother and father. Shit, I know all about loss! My brother Gene passed 10 years ago. I lost my sisters Judy and Jackie. I lost everybody, I’m telling you, there’s no one left! I lost Uncle Roger and Uncle Joe. I lost Aunt Harriet, Aunt Geneva, Aunt Marsha and Aunt Marie. That’s just on my mother’s side. On my father’s side I lost Uncle John, Uncle Buddy and Uncle Richard. Lost all my cousins, not a one left. I had one daughter, my precious Samantha, lost her in a car crash when she was only eighteen. All my old friends are dead, lost Bill and Larry and Anny. Lost Ted, Lawrence, Marty, Kip, Darda, Evelyn, Nancy, Chuck, Peter, Andrew and Bob.’

‘That’s a lot of names to remember.’

‘My memory is still sharp. Sometimes I wish I could forget, but I can’t. Getting old sucks. There’s nothing to do. I started painting.’

‘Oh, well that’s a good idea.’

‘You want to come in and see my paintings?’

‘I really need to get a move on. Gotta pay the bills.’

‘I understand.’

We pulled into his little condo and sat in the driveway. He didn’t move, so I got out and went around and opened the door for him. He kind of looked out like he wasn’t sure where he was, then slowly stood up and looked around.

‘Yep, this is it.’

‘That will be ten bucks.’

‘I couldn’t interest you in a nice watercolor?’

‘I’m not much of a collector. I like to stay light.’

‘Yeh, ok…I’m on the internet if you change your mind.’

He handed me a ten-dollar bill and a business card that said: “Will Knight, award-winning artist,” and an address for a web site.

‘I’ll check it out, thanks.’

‘Ok, have a good one! Don’t get old!’

‘I’ll try not to!’

 

*

My next call comes from Fry’s grocery. These calls always stink, total jerk-runs. I pull up through the chaos of the parking lot. A deaf lady dangles in the swarm. Anarchy cooks at the supermarket doors stuck half open. She thinks the cab’s for her, but I’ve come for a man named Glenn. Her eyes eclipse from prayer to rage like she’s been punched as an old man approaches, says he’s Glenn. She throws a fit! She karate-chops me a new asshole with her sign language. Mute fumes. Pissed-off mime with moldy spaghetti hair on her mutilated skull. She begs a pen and digs out a Tucson Daily Star from the trash can. “I waiting 2 ½ hours” she scribbles in the gray margin, waves the news in my face. July 5th. Headline photo of the foothills burning. No rain forecasted. 10 a.m. Blue ink veins her rheumatoid claws. Asphalt hot as Satan’s abscessed tooth. She tosses the paper to the oven wind. I stare directly at her face and tell her I’m sorry but I have to pick up Glenn. Just following orders. She’s somebody’s mother. Grandmother. Far too much light. Glenn in puppy shit thrift store slacks isn’t looking for trouble. 70 years old. 5-foot-1. 80 pounds. The sun throbs like a sore on the back of a leper’s neck. Embolism air bubbles trample toward our hearts. I pile Glenn and his groceries into the mustard-yellow cab, swear to the deaf lady I’ll drop Glenn off and return for her. No clue which cab company she called or if she’ll curse my soul. Doesn’t matter. We’re all nutsacks and frail promises collapsing in the funk. Glenn lives 8 blocks away where the rippling water mirage evaporates at a stroked-out apartment complex. I lug his bags up 4 crooked flights.

Back in the cab I get another fare and take it without thinking in my automaton nod. I remember deaf lady but can’t turn back. I’ve got my own problems, I rationalize to my gin blossom in the rearview mirror. My wife is crippled and someone hacked my bank account. There’s a constant ringing, a voice in my mind I can’t plug up. Sweat beads like spider pearls on this faded roulette wheel that bites. Hell, she’ll be alright, bawling in her silent sentience. I pass a rotted coyote in the cinders of the shoulder, like a poet grinning in a heroin suicide or a theorist who wrote his final pamphlet on the social ecology meltdown. Horse flies rifle loud and mad in the cracked mud ditch. I suck oxygen into wretched sciatica biomass and hold the fuck on. A 17-tired truck skids sideways through the red at Rudasill Road. Spilled oranges bounce like propane orbs in violet oblivion. Tremulous meteorites criss-cross my eyeballs. Oblique brakes rip the fabric of traffic like knees bending the wrong way and shattering, like bees sizzling the bliss with 10,000 flames, like the future blow-horning my name here right now and there’s nowhere to go but straight into it.

 

 

Mather Schneider was born in 1970 and now lives in Mexico. He has had many poems and stories published and has 4 books available.

NON-FICTION BY KWOH B. ELONGE

Loving

 

Love is a thing you experienced in strange places and in tabooed bodies. Today it took the form of a naked girl lying on your chest, the way a baby nestles in its mother’s hands. The embers of your torrid night slowly wane with the silent heaving of your breath. It is victory for you. The kind that leaves you befuddled because of its unlikely outcome. And so you puzzle whether all these years, you might have been wrong after all about the possibilities of where love lay in your heart and body. It is what people say: that feelings are from the heart, and you cannot feel what the heart does not yearn.

Sleep went on a trip for the night, and thought parked in, with all its daunting baggage. How could you have managed this? Twice in a single night, with the wrong body as your lover.

Sonia rattles gently on you, her mass of human hair tinkling uncomfortably against your face like a swarm of ants. You push the tendrils of hair away from your face. Not as gently as you had wanted. She grips harder, steadying her head on your chest, a leg crossed over your legs like a barricade. This is an intrusion too. The discomfort runs through you like electric shock, but there’s an unsettling satisfaction with the sight and thought of being treated like this by a woman; and to be a man—a virile, satisfying man—whom a lady could lay on through the night. You wonder if you could repeat this with other ladies. If you could be so good again that others could end up in your arms, even if you felt nothing and just felt stiffened at the thought of sex and went about it knowing that it was not what you truly wanted.

It must be Sonia. Or maybe the spirit of your dead unburied mother mutating your genes to make you fit into the mould of “normalcy”. You smile in your head. Your mom, in her lifetime, was capable of making the imaginable happen. This must be her last trick before she went to wherever dead people go.

You think of the string of coincidences that led Sonia to your bed. Of how Menkeh had called you to help with mentoring a girl who was running to be student president of her university. How the thought of a girl becoming president was enough motivation for you. When you met that day, you met an excited a group of sophomores, whom Menkeh repeatedly informed that you were his friend, the most intelligent person he knew.

Menkeh lived on exaggerations.

As a manager to an up-and-coming Afropop singer, he had developed an industrial ability for propaganda and hype, swinging between the pompous and the endearing. The aspirant was Mbone; a willowy, unconfident girl with model-like features strained under the untethered pressure of Menkeh’s ambitions for her. It was considered as help to the starry-eyed campaign team of sophomores she had assembled to see her through the journey. But you couldn’t resist the thought that he was trying maniacally to turn her into a version of his dream. Later, he would try to woo her and she would dismiss him with a thumbs-down emoji on WhatsApp.

Sonia was part of Mbone’s team, and, like Menkeh, she seemed to be no stranger to making herself seen. The difference was, she was less effervescent, more curious, and better looking. The meeting quickly turned into a discussion panel with Sonia asking questions, you giving tips and answers, and Menkeh telling Mbone to listen and absorb. You must have made an impression on Sonia since she asked for your number, and called at once to make sure you had hers. You had saved her name as Sharon. That was what you heard.

Your mom died on November the 1st. It was a rainy Tuesday. Whenever a member of her family died, it rained like a plague. You ate foam from your mattress that morning to numb yourself. It is never truly painful if you can manage to describe the feeling. For all you know, the world had paused and left you in molten magma. That day, Sonia called you. Her voice encircled you like a necklace made from balm. Then she called you again and again and again like you were to take her at prescribed intervals, in doses, to soothe your hurt. You knew this was no ordinary friendship. At least to her. But you were glad to be cared for. You too needed some comforting.

Your mom’s illness had left you in the ache of sleeplessness, stress, and uncertainty for four months as she moved from hospital to home to hospital and stayed there, without raising a finger, without muttering a word, without opening her eyes. The words were irrelevant but the eyes had once been so expressive and all you wanted was to see her open those eyes again for a second.

The evening before she passed, your elder sister fed her through a loopy tube that passed through her nostrils. She had choked out little lumps of crimson coagulated blood, which you later learned was her liver, smashed into tiny tissues by diabetes. That night, you spoke to Sonia about your mom’s condition. It was on the phone, but her voice seemed so close that she materialised in front of you. She told you how strong you were, because you managed to keep your poise and fool everyone into believing your life was not a cluttered mess. She told you about her mother. How she had passed while Sonia was thirteen, just a year after her father had passed. She spoke of her in ways you did not want to speak of your mother, like a memory. A memory she kept really close, to the last detail, the last scenes. She spoke of the last time she saw her mother, so emaciated and skinny that she yelped at the sight of the bleeding body. She explained the gossip about her mother dying from AIDS. She spoke in ways that showed she was still doused in denial.

That evening, you cried. That evening, Emmanuel came to your house. He said you looked like feather. He had come to tell you he would be travelling to Yaoundé to establish his passport. That night, you kissed. His lips tasted like ash, his tongue like cotton. But it did not matter. All you needed was the warmth of his familiar touch. You told him about your premonition: the dream you had had about owls. A thousand black owls hovered over your house in the daylight until the sun turned red and bled out. Two years ago, when your dad died, a trapped owl circled your kitchen for hours. That’s how you knew they were not bringers of good news.

That night, you told Emmanuel all the things you wished. How you wanted to believe that a god existed who could place a gentle hand on your mother’s lips and restore her speech. How you so yearned to hear the sound of her voice that you had frantically gone through all your voicemails hoping to find one she must have left months back; how you found none, but you hoped you could find a voice note on WhatsApp. Your younger brother had taught her the magic of sending voice notes to you, but you had formatted your phone, lost everything, and now clung to the hope that your brother still kept them. But he was in boarding school, and you were sure he had managed to sneak into school with his phone. As you quavered and your voice cracked into a thousand shards of pain, Emmanuel squeezed you into his chest. He decided to stay the night. You held him so tight that your bodies bled and merged into one, like the first time he embraced you.

That was in 2017, when FC Barcelona won an El-Classico. Emmanuel was an ardent fan and gambler. He had borrowed ten thousand francs from you. He said he wanted to add to his rents. You knew it was a lie. But you felt flattered that he feared your rebuke enough to lie. That evening, he invited you out to a rowdy beer parlour. Frenzied and boisterous football fans hovered over tables strewn with beer bottles. The air, an oven of smoke from cigarettes. You sat there, watching him lost in the game; his voice sounded like a hurricane. Everything about his passion for football charmed you. The excitement, the anger, the explosive outbursts and howling laughter. He handed you his phone for safekeeping. From time to time, he looked over, smiled and rubbed his hands over your thigh, underneath the table. You felt seen.

That night, he won ninety thousand francs from the bet. As you strolled to his house, you caught the childlike sparkle in his eyes while he spoke about football and Messi; his face glistened with sweat, and his body heaved like an Olympian. He thanked you for the money you loaned him, handed you thirty thousand, and told you about how he invested the money in gambling.

‘What if you lost? How would you have paid your rents?’ you asked, attempting a frown, but he slugged his hand over your neck and pulled you so close you soaked in his sweat.

‘I can’t lose when it is your money,’ he said. You paused the words in your brain and let them linger.

That was the first night you kissed. That was the first time he led you into his room and onto his bed. That night, you closed the world behind you and dwelled in your bodies.

Two days after your mother died, Emmanuel left for Yaoundé to establish his passport, and Sonia visited. She travelled all the way to Kumba because she wanted to cook something nice for you. In your mind, you knew there was more to the offer. It came with the doughy uneasiness of assumptions and unspoken connections. You watched her in the kitchen, focused and frenetic as she sweated in the heat. You looked at your watch, wondering when she would finish and go. You knew she could not travel back after six. It would be insensitive of you to let her embark on a journey on the high-risk road at night. But it would even be much more disastrous for her to spend the night. And to expect the impossible. But it was not her you were really worried about. It was you. The untenable thought of lying with her on the same bed and feeling nothing. Or feeling incapable of doing nothing. The manliness she saw in you was a façade; for what that was worth, you could easily be explained as belonging to the same gender with same attraction for men.

It is 9 p.m., and Sonia settles besides you on the living room couch. She leans so close your mind becomes a tempest, buffeting with conflicts, pressures, and doubts. As she speaks, you scan her: her caramel skin, smooth and supple, rubs against your lap. Her eyes are fixed on you like an artwork in a museum. The longing is palpable, the uneasiness unshakeable. You try to relax and allow your mind to wander as she draws closer and leans her head on your shoulder, just the way you used to lean yours on Emmanuel’s. If it were him, he would plant a kiss on your lips; he would slide his hand across your cheeks; he would hold you so close his ticklish beard will rub against your face and drive you mad with feelings.

But you know you are no Emmanuel, and Sonia is not you. You think about the possibility of letting her sleep in your bed alone. You will sleep on your couch. It will look like you are just being cautious and respectful, treating her the way women have wanted to be treated when it came to sex—with an uneasy restrain of lust by the man. There is no lust in you. You are not that type of man. But she takes you by the hand and leads you to your room. She kisses you, and your stomach constricts like plastic tossed in fire. You ask for permission to go to the toilet. You need space. To breathe, to sort out ways to get stiff. All that is needed is some stiffening. Her kisses are flighty. They do not work. You unlock your phone and scramble through your gallery until you stumble on pictures of Emmanuel. The selfies you took while you lay with him on his bed. You allow your mind to take in the sight of your naked bodies wrapped like molten rocks on each other. That is all you need to feel your body stiffen like a choir boy tossed into a porn shop.

*

Last night you felt something else. The feeling of opposites coming together to make magic, to suspend time, to dwell in each other, to leave you confounded.

Sonia lies on your chest and runs her hand over your stomach and down to your thighs. You feel a tingle. You kiss her on her forehead, you rub your hand over her supple cheeks, and you pull her so close you think you might have feelings.

Your phone buzzes. A message from Emmanuel.

“Hey, babes. I arrived late but safe. Will talk to you later. Take care. Xoxo.”

You smile, a fulfilled smile, and think of the magic your body performs. Of all the ways you experience love in strange places and tabooed bodies.

 

Kwoh B. Elonge is a Cameroonian writer, activist and researcher. His work has been featured in Revue des Citoyens des Lettres, Bakwa Magazine, Face2Face Africa, This is Africa; and in anthologies such as Ashes and Memories, Erotic Africa: The Sex Anthology, etc. In his down time, he googles Christopher Hitchens and Beyonce.

POETRY BY JOY PRIEST

Self-Portrait as Disney Princess

 

 Never a child with other children. Dead summer, so dark

The bottoms of your feet look as if you’ve skipped through ash.

 

Your only friends: the carpenter bees who bear perfectly round holes

In the carport’s rotting wood frame & dance in socked feet

 

Glittering with pollen, the hummingbirds hovering at your head

Like a crown. Your caretaker—old man, pallor of appropriate pedigree—

 

Sits chain-smoking inside the house, hacking phlegm

Into a Folgers can-made-spittoon, thinking himself your savior.

 

You know only compassion. Watch the spiders curl

Into flowers of death, and, having observed them building their webs

 

Each dusk, preside over small funerals of admiration. You are green

As the colonial Pippins piling beneath a neighbor’s Newtown.

 

C’mere little squirrel you say to the kit scooping it into your arms.

How could you know its mother will never touch it again?

 

 

Joy Priest  is a 2019-2020 Poetry Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poems and essays appear in numerous publications, including CallalooConnotation PressFour Way Review,espnWGulf CoastMississippi ReviewThe Rumpus, and Third Coast, and have been anthologized in Black Bone: 25 Years of the Affrilachian PoetsThe Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop, and Best New Poets 2014 and 2016.

Priest is the winner of the 2019 Gearhart Poetry Prize from The Southeast Review; the 2019 Nikki Giovanni Scholar at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop; the 2018 Gregory Pardlo Scholar at The Frost Place; the winner of the 2016 College Writers’ Award from the Hurston/Wright Foundation; and the recipient of a 2015 Emerging Artist Award from the Kentucky Arts Council.

 

POETRY LAUREN CAMP

Ratio

              Hardly begun, I was no longer new,

              already beset with quandaries and cries.

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm—C.K. Williams (“Outsets”)

How many times he says basket to me with a pact

mmmto be tender. His words celebrate whatever’s not

ending. In the recliner with the blunder

mmof counting the beige

of each hour and his head pressed to plush rest. A longer year later, how

mmmany steps between moderate

and cutout. The slow terror of checking: palm tree, hopeful

mmroses, the haul of each

bite of dinner. Brown eyes make spaces. Unlikely

mmkisses, and he landscapes

the future. We zoom along to eternal shadows. There is no embellishment

mmto give you. He tries to practice

how this goes to that. His name is a shore and we mark it

mmsurface, suddenly

filling, etc. This July will be many

mmyears in Florida’s blister. Inside

his mouth is one morning

mmto next and approaching true reason. The moon is up, secure

as a torch against his window. Look at the moon singing

mmthe incomplete

light. My early years, my father

mmheld me high with ineluctable glee.

 

 

 

When We Pay Attention to the Sermon

 

We walked in single file past small cairns

where the unwrinkled sky opened its boat to the world.

D. touched a wall and centuries crumbled.

Natural wounds. Every day is a delicate loss.

I turned the labyrinth: in and out,

a final round, feet in the architecture of forgetting.

Wild berry, columbine, deer scat.

Spires rose at the periphery of clouds,

to the side of the latest fire.

Someone withdrew in a truck. Ending volatility.

An arroyo with its branches. Everything

was imminent, so many years in preparing.

Here was a bird, a day in a life.

The hub of crowing.

A repetition.

It smelled abandoned, almost holy.

 

 

 

Lauren Camp is the author of One Hundred Hungers (Tupelo Press, 2016), winner of the Dorset Prize and finalist for the Arab American Book Award and the Housatonic Book Award;Turquoise Door (3: A Taos Press, 2018); and two previous collections. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry International, The Los Angeles Review, World Literature Today, Third Coast, Bennington Review, and Witness, and her work has been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish and Arabic. She lives and teaches in New Mexico.