Monday
Dec262016

what's that white

Poetry by Karin Drucker, Winter 2017 

*

the streets are
paved with ooooh
no what’s that white?
boom, blue nose
pit ballin’ –what’s
the diamond? mona
laugh like station
singing never
heard her there outside
the christian’s lot on
taylor only ever met
her shining skin puffy
hands hey honey
at the dahlia -- just
around the corner
where the pit cashmere
sings behind the splinter
door, #331.

*

Karin has been a community organizer and service provider to homeless and low income people. She is a word geek and a cheerleader for incarcerated writers. http://bit.ly/2heqXyg

Image: Source

Monday
Dec262016

Pretty Lady

Plastic bags tore. Coins flipped into the air. Papers, postcards, ribbons, dresses took sail.

Fiction by Deborah S. Prespare, Winter 2017 

*

The August sun was relentless. The air was still and had a taste of car exhaust and burnt hair. The old woman, in her layers, didn’t notice the heat rippling off the black asphalt. The old woman, her head down, her back humped, her thick-knit shawl flapping against her creaky hips, didn’t pay the heat any mind as she plodded along.

A car drove by. The teenage boys in it laughed. “Hey, pretty lady,” they shouted.

She blushed, her bright blue eye shadow sparkling with her shy blink. It wasn’t the first time she’d been called that. He used to call her his pretty lady all the time.

She smoothed her silver-sequined black skirt and patted her white, matted hair. With her gnarled and shaking hands, she pulled the shawl tighter around her shoulders. Then, gripping the handle of her flimsy pushcart, a moving boneyard of her life, she walked, glancing down now and then at what remained—dresses, costume jewelry from her dancehall days, letters, postcards from him.

At an intersection in the center of a quiet town, the old woman watched a truck rumble by, black exhaust puffing from its rear. A man walking his dog was in her path. He left the crosswalk and stepped out into the street, pulling his reluctant dog behind him. Having grown accustomed to people parting the way for her, she didn’t pay him or the yipping dog any mind. She crossed the intersection, pushing her cart before her.

A block later, a raindrop struck her hand. More drops fell. She looked up at the blackening sky. Blinking when she caught a drop in her eye, she saw a Laundromat, its door held open by a cinderblock. She pushed her cart inside.

She was alone. Washing machines lined one wall, their lids all open, waiting to be used. A coin caught in the tumble of wet clothes clanked in the one dryer that was running. She pushed her cart to a pair of plastic, blue-gray chairs near the washers. One hand on her back, the other on the cart’s frame, she eased herself onto one of the seats. Settled, her gaze drifted to the corner by the window where balls of dust and lint had gathered on the chipped, white-tiled floor. Caught in the swept-aside debris was a desiccated cricket on its back. The rain, like a lightly played snare drum—trrp, trrp, trrp—lulled her. Wondering when that cricket had last chirped, her eyes closed.

The old woman woke when a young woman, her hair dripping, came in barking at the baby on her hip. Tracking wet footprints to the running dryer, the young woman set the baby on a nearby folding table, opened the dryer door, and pulled out clothes—jeans, T-shirts, panties, a baby’s bib. Every time the baby squirmed, she would set the baby straight on the table again and scold it. “You’re going to bust your head!”

A shiny penny fell from the dryer and rolled across the floor. The baby watched the old woman, her humped back cracking, get up from her seat and bend down and scoop up the polished penny. The baby, her bottom lip trembling, watched the old woman straighten up and shuffle back to her seat. When the old woman smiled at the baby, the baby leaned back its head and wailed.

“Hush now,” the young woman said, shoving clothes into a mesh bag. “Don’t you pay her any mind.” She hoisted the baby to her hip. The baby, her eyes wide, her nose running, crammed her fist into her mouth and buried her face in her mother’s chest.

Humming a tune she remembered from way back, the old woman watched the two of them leave. She dropped the penny into a plastic bag strapped to her cart, sat back, and waited for the rain to subside.

***

“Hey. Lady.”

The old woman opened her eyes.

A tall, bone-thin man, his glasses thick, his flannel shirt faded like his ashen skin, stood by the door, a ring of keys in his hand. “You gotta go. If you ain’t doing laundry, you can’t just sit there.”

The rain had stopped. She had meant to be on her way anyway, so she stood, her knees and hips popping. She steadied herself against her cart, and then, slowly, she pushed past him, into the cool night and out of town, humming big band numbers her small feet had memorized years before. She didn’t notice the reflective eyes blinking now and then from the trees and thick bushes around her.

Later, when she saw through a pause in the trees a meadow touched by the moon, she stopped. Each blade of tall grass sparkled with the moon’s light. Like something out of a dream. She noticed how even the sequins on her dress had been transformed by the moon. So many shiny stars. Laughing, the tune she was humming slipping into another loved melody, she got moving again, admiring the swish of stars against her legs.

Her knee wobbled. She gripped the cart, but it couldn’t support her. She fell, tumbling, pulling the cart with her. Plastic bags tore. Coins flipped into the air. Papers, postcards, ribbons, dresses took sail. The cart and the old woman rolled down the bank, into the peaceful meadow and the thick hum of night bugs.

When she caught her breath she sat up, wincing at the sting in her muscles and joints. She saw that she was bleeding and she grimaced. Her shins were as torn up as her stockings. Papers—some with her handwriting, some with his—sheet music, twinkling necklaces and bracelets, yellowed postcards, a dried corsage, lay scattered across the grass near her. She tried to stand. Her ankle buckled. Her cart, near empty, was a few feet from her, its wire frame bent, but somehow standing upright.

Still strapped down with twine to the contorted cart, she could see, its brown felt covering intact, the object she most prized. She crawled to her cart and untied the twine. She removed the felt, and in the moon’s light, she saw that the glass hadn’t shattered, that the only scratches on the picture’s frame were ones already accumulated along the way.

He was just as he had always been. She touched his chin. The stubble in the evening, if he hadn’t shaved again, was sharp but giving. She could almost feel it under her fingertips. She traced the outline of his neck, then paused on his shoulder where she used to rest her cheek when they danced. The fabric of his army coat was always coarse at first blush, but once she was nestled in, how soft it became. The scent of his aftershave—a hint of menthol and coconut—she could almost taste it as she remembered how tightly he used to hold her when they danced.

“My pretty lady.” How she wished she could hear him say those words to her again.

Above her the stars twinkled. Across her lap, the sequins on her skirt sparkled. And all around her, coming closer, were blinking eyes that reflected the night.

*

Deborah S. Prespare lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in several publications, including Amarillo Bay, Blue Lake Review, Cadillac Cicatrix, Common Ground Review, Diner, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Fiddleback, The MacGuffin, Marathon Literary Review, North Atlantic Review, Potomac Review, Red Rock Review, Rougarou, Sanskrit Literary-Arts Magazine, and Qwerty.

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Monday
Dec262016

We are Connected

Poetry by Laura SchulkindWinter 2017 

*

I watch the tightrope walker
high above me arms spread
and cannot help tilting just as she tilts,
leaning when she leans,
catching my breath and
tensing my legs to hold myself to the ground
each time she wobbles. 

We are connected.
Her walk is my walk.
Her fall would be my fall.
And when she arrives safely at the far perch, it is a gift.
For a moment I am safe.

*

Poet and writer Laura Schulkind is an attorney by day, where she is entrusted with others’ stories. Through fiction and poetry she tells her own. Her chapbook, Lost in Tall Grass, was released in May 2014 (Finishing Line Press); her poetry and fiction has also appeared in numerous journals and can be seen on her website: www.lauraschulkind.com, along with musings on why “lawyer-poet” isn’t an oxymoron.

Image: Source

Monday
Dec262016

Sweet-Potato-and-Lime Soup

We were always waiting: to hear footsteps upstairs as we sucked down coffee, to be asked to cut the tags that made a shirt itchy, for blue Pop-Tarts to warm, for milk not to spill, for teeth to get brushed after the excess of sugar, for teeth to fall out, for teeth to grow in, for Velcro to stick…and all this before bus stop, kiss-kiss.

Fiction by Mika Yamamoto, Winter 2017 

*

Mr. Cabio, age three, needed new shoes. Light-up running shoes, in fact.

“Mom! Light-up running shoes!” Mr. Cabio said, skipping beside me across the Target parking lot. Today he was wearing his purple princess dress over his sweatpants and a dinosaur shirt. There was a tiara in his light brown hair. He was so happy he sang the “Light-up Running Shoes Song.” Because he didn’t just want new shoes. Or new running shoes. He wanted new light-up running shoes!

But

When we got to the shoe section, we saw pink cowboy boots.

“Oh, Mr. Cabio!” I exclaimed.

“Oh!” His eyes lit up.

Mr. Cabio did not need pink cowboy boots. He did need running shoes. Pink cowboy boots, in addition to running shoes, were not in the budget. But it was too late.

I calculated.

pink cowboy boots       in exchange for       three meals of beans and rice

Four Minutes Later

We were still in the girls’ shoe section. Mr. Cabio was dancing in pink cowboy boots and I was listening to the sound of hard floor against hard soles—thinking of three nights of rice and beans—when Astrid and her daughter, Sofi, strolled up. Sofi was three, the same age as Mr. Cabio, and dressed like him too. Only her dress was pink. Astrid was dressed like me, wearing a sweatshirt she’d probably worn for three days in a row. Hers was adorned with a dribble of toothpaste.

In a town of 40,000, it’s no surprise to run into someone you know at Target. But to run into the one person I had been desperately hoping to see was different. Here she was: Astrid, at Target, while I too was at Target.

And now, here’s a secret

I have a crush on Astrid.

I have had a crush on Astrid since the first and only time we met, at a company picnic, last spring. She had been in front of me in the buffet line, serving Sofi as well as herself, but I was alone—my kids already fed. I offered to help hold plates; she accepted.

“Do you work for Dow, too?” she asked, picking up the tongs for hotdogs. I heard a faint German accent; I noted to myself to mention at some point that I had lived in Frankfurt.

“No. My husband. I write,” I said.

“What do you write?” she asked.

“Fiction.”

“A humanities person? In this town!” She looked at me, her blue eyes happy beneath her graying red bangs. I felt her take in my dark smallness in contrast to her pale expansiveness. Her honeydew breasts were level with my almond eyes. Her chest rose as she took in a deep breath. I matched her breathing, lifting my head to look straight into her open face. Then, her naked lips smiled at the joke that wasn’t a joke. This company town is a scientist’s town, and humanities people are few and far between.

“Yes. And you?”

“Before we moved here for my husband’s work,” she said, “I taught sociology at university.”

Just then our conversation was overwhelmed by the voices of two men passing us with full plates of food.

“You’re a pussy,” one joked to the other, using his elbow to nudge his friend. A grape rolled off his paper plate, but they kept walking.

I watched Astrid pivot toward the direction they were going. She yelled, “Hey! Pussies are strong! You try pushing a baby through your penis!”

The men turned around and Astrid met their double gaze. The tongs, still in her hand, pointed at their matching khaki pants. They tried to smile. She didn’t. They shuffled away.

Astrid turned back around and picked up a hotdog.

My eyes became hearts.

Double Hearts

I hadn’t seen her since, but here she was, and the recognition in her smile made me breathe deep. But…Sofi tugged at my right hand, which reminded me there were children. I squatted down to look into her light brown eyes.

“What a pretty dress, Sofi!” The silly things we can’t help saying to kids. I know, I know.

And More Hearts

Mr. Cabio noticed Sofi, too—or, at least, he noticed her chestnut-colored hair. Mr. Cabio’s hair was a source of sorrow for him lately. “I’m not the same as you guys,” he would say as he brushed out my long hair. “My hair isn’t black like you guys.” It was true. My three other children had my Japanese hair. Even Mr. Cabio’s blue-eyed father had dark hair. Mr. Cabio alone had brown locks. He felt alone. And, now: Sofi!

“Look at my pink cowboy boots! And there are dancing shoes here, too!” Mr. Cabio said. Having crowned himself the king of the girls’ shoe department at Target, he took Sofi as his queen.

Surprise

I stood up and Astrid hugged me. She hugged me too long for a chance meeting at a big-box store. She hugged me too long for a chance meeting at a big-box store between two almost-strangers. This was a hug meant for airports. But nobody cared. We were middle-aged women—not the kind of middle-aged women who wore high-heeled boots and makeup, but middle-aged women with preoccupied faces. No one worried about us.

“Why don’t you come over for lunch?” I asked. 

The Children’s Lunch

Elephant-shaped PB&J

Bunny-shaped apple pieces

Flower-carrots

Milk

Astrid watched me carve food into animals. She propped her chin on her fists, keeping her eyes on my hands. “Why do you do this?”

I notched the peeled carrot. “So the world doesn’t notice that I’m losing my mind.”

“Really? You too?” Astrid asked. “I iron sheets and underwear.”

“We are all losing our minds—anyone with young kids. I read it on the Internet.” I didn’t look up from my task.

“Why are we so unhappy?”

“We were meant to be men when men were still kings,” I quoted myself as I handed her a remnant of a carrot. “Instead, we are maids to the small and the sticky.”

Astrid chewed on a carrot. 

“No. It’s not that.”

She was right. It wasn’t that.

Finally, she said, “You know what it is? It’s all the goddamned waiting. All the fucking time.”

By golly, that was it.

We were always waiting: to hear footsteps upstairs as we sucked down coffee, to be asked to cut the tags that made a shirt itchy, for blue Pop-Tarts to warm, for milk not to spill, for teeth to get brushed after the excess of sugar, for teeth to fall out, for teeth to grow in, for Velcro to stick…and all this before bus stop, kiss-kiss. Where the fuck was Godot?

That is what I said out loud. “Where the fuck is Godot?”

And God love Astrid, because her response was not, But we do love the kids. We do.

Because no shit we do.

That was never the point.

But

for us, I made sweet-potato soup. Coconut milk, onions, carrots, cilantro, sweet potatoes, and lime zest. I thought it would be sweet with a base note of sour. It was not that. It was quiet—on the brink of lacking, but not.

A table set with

                                        thick blue bowls                         creamy orange soup

                                 chopped-up leaves                             hot bread

                               arugula, plated and vinaigrette                                                                

                                                              ..........d

           r

           i

           z

           z

           l

           e

           d

Because

It’s important to seduce, even if you’re both tired. Maybe especially if you’re both tired.

After Lunch

We put the children to bed in Mr. Cabio’s room.

“Thank God they nap!”

“Yes! Thank God!”    

Astrid and I tiptoed to the guest room to watch an episode of House of Cards. We turned on Netflix, stretched out next to each other on the bed…and fell asleep. In this still state, our body temperatures lowered, drawing us closer to each other for warmth, and when that wasn’t enough, our bodies wanted to be closer still, until I woke up to find that I had two fingers inside Astrid’s vagina. I was lying on my right side with my right arm bent under my head. Astrid was on her back, hands on her breasts. The zipper of her jeans was down, and my hand was busy beneath her underwear.

Astrid’s eyes were closed. I knew she was awake. She said nothing; she just moved her hips to draw my fingers in deeper. I raised myself on my right elbow, my face over Astrid’s. She opened her eyes and pulled my face toward her. Our tongues found each other. Then the taste of lime, and then the cilantro between our teeth.

We kissed—until it wasn’t enough, we—kissed—until I—had to taste more. We kissed—until—I was drawn—to the heat—between her legs. We tried to be quiet—oh, oh, so quiet: The children were sleeping next door.

*

Mika Yamamoto has work published in Noon, Writer's Chronicle, Rumpus, and others. She is a writer for ESME.com.

Image: Source

Monday
Dec262016

Small Cruelties

Poetry by Laura Schulkind, Winter 2017 

*

So rude to do it over the phone—
that was my first thought,
cowardly, really, to make her disembodied voice
her emissary.

But in the end it didn’t help
—focusing on the etiquette of the thing
rather than the thing itself.
Not enough, anyway.

Not enough to block the familiar reflex—
biting the inside of my cheek as I
measure her life, her story, her choices against my own.
and worry. Her and her and her.

So instead I judged her harshly—
selfish, self-absorbed,
bored in a month,
and worse.

And the next day,
when she sought me out
and looked at me,
so close I could see her throat tremble,

I could have told her she was brave,
or that I understood,
or just taken her hand,
but I didn’t.

*

Poet and writer Laura Schulkind is an attorney by day, where she is entrusted with others’ stories. Through fiction and poetry she tells her own. Her chapbook, Lost in Tall Grass, was released in May 2014 (Finishing Line Press); her poetry and fiction has also appeared in numerous journals and can be seen on her website: www.lauraschulkind.com, along with musings on why “lawyer-poet” isn’t an oxymoron.

Image: Source

Monday
Dec262016

The Mooring Field

Laura only loved people when they were dying.

Fiction by Nancy Scott Hanway, Winter 2017 

*

If she doesn’t go, will they send someone for her? Pastor Becky has already called twice. She must be standing at the front of the church next to the casket—a tiny, black-robed figure, squinting at her watch like a sea captain about to take sights at noon.

“I have a question,” Laura said when Pastor Becky called the first time. “Is it required that I come?”

Silence on the other end of the phone. “Laura. You’ll regret it terribly if you don’t. I shouldn’t have to tell you that.”

What Pastor Becky meant was that she found it unbelievable that Laura—director of a hospice facility, national expert on death and dying, author of the influential Learning to Grieve: When Families Refuse to Accept a Stage 4 Diagnosis—was reacting in this way.

“I don’t believe in God anymore,” Laura responded.

“That’s all right,” Pastor Becky said. “God believes in you.”

A platitude. That’s all she had to offer, Laura thought. A Facebook quote. Or one of those posters on Tumblr, with pictures of redwood forests. She slammed down the phone and immediately felt guilty. Pastor Becky meant it to provide courage.

And Pastor Becky—gray-haired and kind—knew tragedy. She had entered the ministry after her husband tried to kill their son twenty years before. He’d gone crazy, maybe, or was it financial stress? The son, paralyzed from the waist down since the shooting, helped his mother with her ministry by leading their therapy dog team. Because of Pastor Becky, Laura’s hospice facility had received national recognition. Laura owed her.

***

Laura’s sister had been texting all morning, concerned and overly helpful. Jenny might arrive in a taxi to fetch her. Out of pure guilt.

Jenny had disapproved of Ted because he was a lab tech and a loud, clumsy man who stepped on Laura’s feet when they danced.

“Did you have to pick someone as klutzy as Dad?” Jenny asked her once. Ted overheard the comment and there was an argument in which Jenny had called Ted “farm boy” and then wept and said that Laura had never really loved her. And that the Midwest was an ugly place. Laura knew. She once spent a miserable summer working as a consultant in Omaha.

Ted said, “You’ve never seen beauty until you lie down in a corn field and look up.”

Jenny snorted with laughter. She then added that Ted should watch out because Laura only loved people when they were dying. She gave him a list: Their mother. Laura’s old college roommate, whom she ignored for years until Trish ended up in the hospice facility that Laura ran.

At Christmas Jenny sent them an invitation to attend family therapy.

“Over my dead body,” Ted said. “Your sister is so controlling.”

After Ted’s death Jenny asked Laura if she regretted not going to counseling. “Not that it would have helped. You couldn’t have done anything to stop him.”

“It was an accident,” Laura shouted. “He didn’t mean it. He didn’t see the bus!”

“The driver said Ted looked right at him,” Jenny said in the gentle way that meant she thought she was being kind. “It’s not your fault.”

***

Laura sat in her rocker beside the window, wearing the light-blue suit that had been Ted’s favorite. A gray and chilly day, like nearly every day here. Ted hated weather in San Francisco. But Laura had been born here, unlike Ted, who still longed for the bright, hot summers of Iowa. For cold, breathless winters. For the brief flash of Midwestern spring. For crisp autumns, where you sat by the fire after raking leaves that fell slowly and quietly for months.

That was always funny to Laura’s friends—that they knew someone who longed to move back to his flyover state.

Ted spent his childhood in a house that bordered a neighbor’s farm. Corn grew right up to the edge of their yard. As a kid he used to pretend that the sound of wind rushing through the dried stalks was ocean waves against the shore. He thought he would love living near the sea.

They rarely visited Iowa after his parents retired to Arizona because Laura resisted going. “What’s there for me to do?” she always asked.

“Get to know my old friends,” he had said. “Walk around, talk to people.”

She only got a few weeks away from the hospice every year, and she desperately needed to be far from anyone who might need her, even anyone who might need to get to know her. And Ted’s friends weren’t the simple, friendly Midwesterners of movies. They were thoughtful people who argued about politics and attended poetry readings and pushed for their towns to go solar.

Laura couldn’t stand the thought of arguing about anything on her vacation. She and Ted always ended up in Hawaii, on Kauai, in a little hotel on the beach. The most stressful part of vacation was watching Ted fish out taro chips from the bowl at the bar.

“Other people might like those too,” she once said.

“You’re too sweet.” He had put his arm around her, already drunk from the mai tai. She could tell when he was drunk because he began to say things that he didn’t mean.

“I mean me,” she said. “I might like some.” But he was too drunk already, and it was feeling like an argument.

She should have known about the shame. After watching the patients in hospice all these years. Just shaking hands with a patient made you feel regret by osmosis. The families were the worst. Shame vibrated from their hands. Their too-friendly smiles. All the things they hadn’t done or said.

The old cop had said, “Don’t expect my kid to come visit. I was a shitty father.”

But he was wrong. His kid—a trans man in his late twenties—had come and cried at the funeral, holding his mother’s hand.

That was the problem. When the patients weren’t telling you their awful stories, their families were demonstrating the pain. A husband recently pulled out his wife’s breathing tube. His response, when alarm bells went off and they raced in to see what had happened, was, “She was already dead.”

At home, when she told him what the husband had said, Ted looked up from his book. “Surely you don’t see that as murder.”

And they argued again about her work. Her patients were sucking the life out of her, is what Ted said. He wanted her to quit, move somewhere else.

“I suppose you want to go to stupid Iowa,” she had said.

“Why not? It’s beautiful and calm. We could get jobs at the university hospital.”

“Over my dead body,” Laura said. “I don’t want to be bored to death.”

After that he never talked about Iowa again. It was like a secret place that only he understood.

***

Down on the street a taxi pulled up, and her sister got out, looking up at the building. She was wearing black, like a professional mourner. Laura grabbed her purse and went out the back entrance just as her sister was putting her key in the lock. Laura walked steadily down the back stairs, past recycling bins, bicycles, and muddy shoes. The back door let out onto an alley.

Down to the marina. Ted had loved the marina, even though he couldn’t swim and got seasick every time they went out on a friend’s sailboat. But he adored sitting on a bench near the docks, staring out at masts on the mooring field. 

“What do you like about it?” she had asked him once. “You hate boats.”

“You can’t see, can you?” he asked her once.

“See what?” she had asked.

“I don’t think you know me very well," he said sadly.

The day of the accident, she had gone to find him at the marina, to tell him that she’d be having dinner that night with Trish’s widower, who was having trouble adjusting to his wife's death. She walked right past the scene—the bus, its emergency lights flashing, the driver shaking, talking to the cops, hand over his mouth. The ambulance pulling away from the curb—siren blotting out every noise, destroying any peace—and it never occurred to her that Ted might be inside. She walked right past it to look for him. She had missed his secret moment of dying. 

Now she sat on the bench across from the marina as if he were sitting down beside her. That’s when she saw what she could have seen a week ago. Her mistake had been looking for what was there. She had only seen water, fog, and sky.

Today was a rare bright day. The sailboats. Wind rushed through the halyards, pinging them against the masts, which rocked side to side, silhouetted like stalks of corn against a blue sky.

*

Nancy Scott Hanway's work has appeared in The Florida Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Willow Review, Washington Square, Portland Review, WomenArts Quarterly, Southern Indiana Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband, son, and opinionated corgi in Fayetteville, Arkansas. http://nancyscotthanway.com

Image: Amanda North