Not a True Believer

A poem by David Lohrey


America is the only country in the world that doesn’t
maintain public toilets. Enclosed spaces invite indecency.
Even the homeless get horny. They defecate in the open
like monkeys in Delhi. The streets reek. Men and women strut
around like pigeons. Their depravity has gone viral.

Nobody objects to the Bushes (and their billions);
it is Nancy and her lust for fine China that draws rebuke.
We fear hunger. We can smell fear. Most would prefer
war to lust. Charles Manson was more highly regarded
than Timothy Leary.

You can’t blame a man like Obama who wants to be rich. What’s
50 million dollars between friends? After eight years in the White
House he is bidding for his own basketball team. Greed is not
unseemly. But we don’t like that man in the White House
who eats McDonald’s.

Whitman called for a poetry of exaltation. Brecht: a poetry of thought.
We got a poetry of despair, written by alcoholics and the lonely.
We’ve embraced the William Gaddis school of gigantism, like
Soviet architecture and aerial photographs of four-leaf clover
interchanges. Like elephant turds, they are impressive.

Construction has been funded, but nothing’s been set aside. 3000 public
schools were built in the 1930s, but there’s no money for upkeep.
Students tear pages from school books to wipe their asses. The pipes
on the 3 rd floor are plugged with Dante. The girls’ bathroom is
flooding. The Principal’s answer is to tell the students to stop reading.

Kirwood McMann head custodian at PS109 preaches every Sunday morning
at the Magnolia Street Church of Christ. He recites the oracles of woe as he
unloads 43 rolls of toilet paper from the trunk of his 7-year-old Cadillac Sedan
de Ville. When I complained to him about my filthy classroom, he looked
up and said, “Why you gotta say “filthy” when “dirty” will do?”

Rev. McMann tries many times to explain to me the ways of the world. “The
people,” he preaches, “have forgotten how to do right. This country is filled
with wealth taken by theft and violence. Sundays are too long. People can’t wait
to get back to cheating the helpless. And you say your floor is filthy. It is you,
you sir, who is filthy!”


David Lohrey’s plays have been produced in Switzerland, Croatia, and Lithuania. His poetry can be found in Otoliths (AUS), The Drunken Llama (US), Tuck Magazine (UK), Expanded Field Journal (Netherlands), and Dodging the Rain (Ireland). His fiction can be read online at Terror House, Storgy Magazine, and Literally Stories. David’s collection of poetry, MACHIAVELLI’S BACKYARD, was published by Sudden Denouement Publishers (Houston, 2017). He lives in Tokyo.

Twanging Voices

A poem by Fred Pollack


That little bald bisexual with an earring –
you know the one –
whose work will always be better than yours
until the destruction of the sun –

For him the theatrical metaphor
was useful, i.e., valid,
even liberating. Not for me.
If the play’s the thing, what’s the theme?
Does it have legs? Who are its backers?
If we took it on tour, would it pay?
Worrying thus, I perform for ghosts,
or like a ghost for a thin and musty
audience of reals.
Early and late I muff my lines.
Have little dramatic sense.
Enjoy a more primitive, declamatory form, and
yearn for solutions:

Hamlet rejects hallucinations.
Juliet says it won’t work.
Lear takes Cordelia’s point (or else
she bullshits him like her sisters).
Caesar gets word who the conspirators are;
his troops invade the Senate and arrest them.


Fred Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure (Story Line Press, 1986) and Happiness (Story Line Press, 1998), and two collections, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015) and Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, 2018). In print, Pollack’s work has appeared in Hudson Review, Southern Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Manhattan Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Main Street Rag, Miramar, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Poetry Quarterly Review, Magma (UK), Neon (UK), Orbis (UK), and elsewhere. Online, his poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Diagram, BlazeVox, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Big Pond Rumours (Canada), The Drunken Llama (2017), Misfit, and elsewhere.

Grievances for Descamisados

A poem by David Lohrey


I, too, am a passéiste. a passéiste am I, a believer in a Golden time.
There’s been no birth but I am suffering from post-partum depression.
Something’s been taken away. I do not have my eye on the next best thing.

I’m proud but not of myself. I’m not even proud to be an American.
So much has been done, although, nothing by me.
We’ll abolish all private property except our house.

I am a sampler of the exquisite, a witness, perhaps some would say an intruder.
I remain grateful. The tea is fine. I don’t care for much of the company.
My fantasy is to live in a Faulkner novel.

I have found a nice quiet table here at the club. If I am left alone, I will thrive.
I want to get me an emotional support peacock and move into Flannery
O’Connor’s old house. One does still hear dreadful stories.

Perhaps it can be said, I regret everything, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling nostalgic.
Yes, it was all a mistake. Every humiliation and those very few triumphs. The greatest
birthday present I ever got was a potted tomato plant. It cost $.79.

I treasure every smile; there have been few. Look where we are. We’ve become brawlers,
like skinny guys at ball games, those nasty, boney thugs with tattoos, the kind who
like to start fights. Who takes advice from a poet?

This is finally who we are, in steel-tipped boots, drunks with shriveled dicks. People who save
up to go to Rome and end up in the local jail for pissing on the statues. I saw my first film
by Truffaut in the Mission; got my first piece of ass on Craig’s list.

We have become a disgrace. The story begins with our lovely heroes waving and passing out
Hershey bars to children. Next thing you know, we are urinating on corpses.
This is why we can’t have nice things. Who’s afraid of red, white, and blue?

We’ve become boxers who bite our opponents. We’ve become women who want to be raped.
We’ve become men who piss themselves. Heavens to Murgatroyd, that’s about it. This
is our common tale of woe. Some thrive in the present, others not.

We’ve become the kind of people children aren’t allowed to play with. We’re degenerates. Yes,
I know a good thing when I see it. I live in the past. I do not look ahead.
Tomorrow might prove an improvement, sure, why not? It’s today I can’t stand.


David Lohrey’s plays have been produced in Switzerland, Croatia, and Lithuania. His poetry can be found in Otoliths (AUS), The Drunken Llama (US), Tuck Magazine (UK), Expanded Field Journal (Netherlands), and Dodging the Rain (Ireland). His fiction can be read online at Terror House, Storgy Magazine, and Literally Stories. David’s collection of poetry, MACHIAVELLI’S BACKYARD, was published by Sudden Denouement Publishers (Houston, 2017). He lives in Tokyo.

A Ghost Bids Farewell to His Last Lodging

A poem by Fred Pollack


Kubin has me cradling my head
(with a gnarled European grin)
in my arms. It must be heavy:
the torso, in prison togs, looks off-center.
Had I met a Wilhelmine headsman, tailed and tophatted?
Or that efficient chute they favored later?
I must say he captures the expression,
but my clothes are the comfy beige of aged
Americans, and my head where it belongs.
The room is already bare, not yet rented;
what used to be there suffices for goodbyes.
Towards the end, on what has since become
the Other Side, some idiot
said I had a “God-shaped hole”
in my life and offered cheaply to fill it
with his hole-shaped God.

Around that time there were other noises:
shrieks, sobs, a rhythmic thwacking
fleshier than sex. If you imagine next-life audio
as a Seventies-style “Wall of Sound,” you’ll
be disappointed: cries as sparse
as sirens in a rich white neighborhood,
though carefully selected
according to an aesthetic
about which I can’t even speculate.

Now I’m off. I might enjoy Kubin’s Munich,
towns bombed or not yet bombed, even
my own several slums. Except
it isn’t the job of the deceased
to enjoy anything; only to resemble
in random streets someone who can’t be there,
causing a little thrill of pain.
To haunt is to pass through, not to remain.


Fred Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure (Story Line Press, 1986) and Happiness (Story Line Press, 1998), and two collections, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015) and Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, 2018). In print, Pollack’s work has appeared in Hudson Review, Southern Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Manhattan Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Main Street Rag, Miramar, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Poetry Quarterly Review, Magma (UK), Neon (UK), Orbis (UK), and elsewhere. Online, his poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Diagram, BlazeVox, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Big Pond Rumours (Canada), The Drunken Llama (2017), Misfit, and elsewhere.

Planes

A short story by Anders M. Svenning


Previously published in The Furious Gazelle.

(April 27, 2018.)


Not long after the plane lands, Davis Parker finds himself behind the wheel of his aged and misshapen Lincoln Town Car. Road lights coast past, methodical, casting feigning shadows across the dashboard, which has his eyes strained even more so than his jet lag.

It is something he has grown used to, the fatigue. It comes along with his profession; and it has been said by a considerable few—scientists, theorists, and psychologists—that commercial pilots experience shorter life spans as an effect of the detrimental lack of sleep, numbers ranging from as early as one’s mid fifties, the causes of death a disingenuous slew from heart attacks to quiet exits in one’s sleep to death not of the body but of the mind.

All that, though, in the words of Dave Parker’s woman, is mere statistics. Jessie would be curled up in bed, waiting for the morning and her husband’s company with expectations of late night popcorn and candlelit dinners coloring her dreams. “Statistics,” she says, “shouldn’t be regarded as anything more than numbers and false positives. You just can’t trust those numbers, you know?” That is her gift to him. Besides her surprise evening kabobs and the lessening-in-frequency in-shower involvements, that is her gift to him—wisdom and council—given through by the shade of her charm, a gift to her otherwise “dense but heartfelt husband,” unable to separate hype from truth. “It’s all about how you live your life, you know? Munch on fast food on your layovers and you’re going to have a heart attack. It’s that simple.” And it is that simple.

Simple, just like—altitude. Everything is relative. Yet still, the notion of numbers and studies holds-fast in Davis’s mind at inopportune times, thirty thousand feet in the air, listless.

A cup of coffee has been drank just after his landing in Miami, bitter and burnt; but it is something to keep him occupied from passing out standing up or passing out driving, like a narcoleptic. It did not have much taste at all, the coffee; Davis has been up for what is now nearing thirty-six hours, and his senses, he knows, tend to dull when he hits hour twenty-four, if not hour twenty, thanks to countless cups of the stuff and caffeinated sodas. Now, there is only the drive home, then he can shoot headfirst under the sheets for hibernation.

Alignment needs fixing. The car, a 1999 piece of work, color white, with glossy hubcaps, is still chuffing along, a beater, in all respects, enough to get him from the house to the airport and back, dinged, incognito, and grand. The Lincoln feels cheap to Davis after landing such a behemoth of an aircraft. It is a good transition, though, from that preciseness to the ease of home life. Davis stays course northward toward Boca Raton, high-speed vibrations jarring loose attentiveness, shaking him into trance.

Loose fitted clothing, long hours in the sky, nothing more than a dim overhead light, enough to read a book. The drone of four low-humming jet engines, the intimacies of the flight and in effect the ride home. Light sandwiches and orange juice from the cockpit cooler; red, green, and white luminescence on the console before him, countless switches, buttons, gauges and dials, levers, static and radio frequencies.

It used to be a passion, breathing inside the clouds, pulling Cessna’s noses up into a loop, feeling his lips, cheeks, and forehead rescind the direction of the plane, carrying the weight of the centripetal forces, extending the flaps of the small turbo-prop and opening up the window to stick out his hand and scoop the air like ice cream.

It was a childhood dream, flying, and flying never quite lost its exhilaration even as a captain of the seven-fifty- and seven-sixty-seven, especially during take off: a wild ferocity under the sweaty, expectant hand of just as well many pilots before his. And still, flying is not quite the same as the early days, in the small planes, when he knew nothing separated him from the ground but fiberglass and water vapor. Jessie has grounded him, her heart and home-style cooking an endless well of flavor and smells. Davis Parker has speculated how, even through her impeding bangs, she notices the flaws in his evening dress or the spot of tomato sauce on his chin during dinner.

Familiar clusters of trees and road-signs tell Parker he is nearing his exit. Vibrations escalate to fervent jostling at around fifty-five miles per hour, settle back to a comfortable streamline at forty.

The three-way intersection of Grevillea Lane and Shoreline Road is not far off. He would make the left onto Grevillea presently and would strip down to essentials upon climbing the stairs, casting aside the clothing’s mundane representation of the past fourteen days in Germany and flights reaching as far south and east as Dubai, UAE, then crawl into bed for a very much anticipated sleep.

His ear is bitten almost clean off that night. The thing should have burst, the way she has bitten into it. After two cranberry and vodkas each, they are red hot, piping, and her smoky eyes have sent him to the floor. He has found what he needed to catch his second wind—alcohol, women—she has been planning this surprise for days, this swirling ease and rock, sunburst cycles between strength and nurture.

Five hours later, morning is creeping in through the half-slit Venetian blinds; dew clings to the glass. The sunlight is laid like a quilt over Davis and has him dressed to the effect of a grocery store loaf of bread: a striped sun-and-shadow barcode draped over his body. Sleep when you’re dead.

He Swings out his body, shuffles to the master bath, and brushes his teeth in his own sink for the first time in weeks. He can smell the bright fruity Kenyan organic breathing from downstairs, Jess’s favorite, the Kenyan. It is almost too sunny this morning, Davis squinting through the silver sunlight, and walking downstairs.

Jess is already in her solid yellow sundress, floats across the tile floor into her husband’s arms when he emerges. “Coffee’s up, Dave. Welcome home!” She pecks him a kiss and floats back toward the kitchen table. “I took the liberty of making you some toast. I’ve already had breakfast.” The beige grout glows from between the tiles underneath Davis’s feet. The entire room is glowing, the blue morning light, the walls around him suggesting a definitive break from the outside world and the inside world. The house is fluorescent—the alcohol, maybe, from last night, he thinks. The sex? Davis pours himself a coffee and has a seat across his wife, the steam still rising from the mug, and the two are quiet for a moment, feeling the pressure and vibrations lingering from the previous night.

“How’ve you been,” Davis asks. “You seem happy, to say the least.”

“How couldn’t I be?” she replies. “I’ve been sleeping like a baby recently. I don’t know why. Oh, and Beth and I went to the ocean the other night to watch the meteor shower.” Davis raises his eyebrows from behind his coffee. “It was beautiful, but I’m sure you see meteors all the time.”

“We see some.”

“We saw a bunch. And the wine. It makes them have some kind of meaning, you know? Like they really are wishes.”

“How is Lillian?”

“She’s doing well,” says Jess.

“Where is she anyway, sleeping?”

“Sleeping upstairs still.”

“I’ll be right back.” Davis lifts his weight from his seat, coffee in hand, and returns to the bedroom.

Somewhere deep down in the luggage lies a large chocolate candy bar wrapped in a white wrapper, in between two magazines he has snagged from an airport kiosk. Rummaging through the suitcase, brazen sunlight crystallizing the bedroom, he retrieves the chocolate bar and strides, thoughtful, through the upstairs hallway, past the bathroom on the left side and past the tapestry on the right, into his daughter’s room.

The yellow walls soften him, and he lulls the eight-year-old child, Lillian, who is maintaining, it seems, her deep meditative state. Lillian, with puffy cheeks and stringy hair, is sleeping on her side with her arm curled into the other and with her legs, he knows, crossed at the ankles. She has been photographed with her ankles crossed three months before her original birthday, vis a vis a sonogram, and she still sleeps the same way at the age of eight years old.

Davis uses his toes to carry him across the room to the side of Lillian’s bed and there he stays for a moment as she breathes. Breathing in and out, her eyes flutter open, and her lungs fill with air.

“Hey, Bird,” says Davis, his eyes stringent but warm. The chocolate bar rises from behind the bedside, where it has been hidden and where Davis is crouching. Lillian, still in her post-morning state, is anticipating this treasure, for she knows beforehand her father would be home on this morning, and, as her vision came to focus, seeing the chocolate, she sprouts, yelling, “Oh my God! It’s the biggest chocolate bar I’ve ever seen. Dad, is it for me?”

Davis hums, “Is it for you?” Hums again. “This three pound piece of candy from the chocolate center of the world, is it for you? Hmm, well, it can be yours only if—hmm—only if you count to—a baker’s dozen.”

She begins counting, reciting slow the numbers, to the number twelve.

“And?” Davis says. “And?”

“Dad, please!”

“Okay, Bird, say ‘thirteen’ and it’s yours.”

“Mom went to the meteor shower. I didn’t go though.”

“No problem, Bird, there will be another one in a couple months.”

Lillian says, “Thirteen.”

“That’s a girl. Go ahead and have a piece of chocolate then clean your teeth. I’ll meet you downstairs in five.”

“Thanks, Daddy.” Lillian bounces up and goes to her desk to open the candy bar while Davis returns to the master bedroom to unpack.

The bedroom, as far as he could tell, has not changed since they have moved into the house, the two small Germanic tapestries on the wall above their bed, an armchair in the corner. The clothes have begun to unpack themselves, the shirts forming a stack on Davis’s left, pants stacked beside the shirts, the shoes and toiletries taking their usual spots alongside the edge of the bag where they would stay until next week when he would have to leave again, on another trip.

One addition they have made to the room since the closing is the mirror opposite their bed. A large crystal, bordered by worn blue-painted wood, takes up nice space on the wall. Davis Parker, walking across his room out the door to meet his child and wife downstairs, catches his eye inside it, and is encountered by strange sense of jamais vu, upon seeing his reflection.

When the pilot, Davis Parker, his wife and his daughter arrive at the zoo later that day they find something that can not be found elsewhere, even in the walls of their home or in the nuts of a chocolate bar. They observe the animals in their habitat. The trees are not indigenous, the rocks are not as real as they should be, the water the animals drink from a tap, but otherwise it is the same. The animals know no different. Davis Parker himself can see little difference. All places remind him of the same place.

Lillian, in her great innocence in the world, has been adopted, is not the direct branch from the parents—Davis and Jessie—and the two, Davis and Jessie, decide on keeping the secret well stored in their hearts. They have made the decision months before Lillian’s birth and have the opportunity to see the sonogram. The only people who know Lil is adopted were the two, and that is as confining as keeping the secret locked within their own, though one has never shared the thought with the other.

Lillian knocks on the glass dividing the viewing area from Nairobi, Kenya. A caracal stares bug eyed back at her. The lynx-like cat has triangular tipped ears with black fur and twists its tail as Lillian knocks. It then moves, walks down the path a few feet to where the trail continues up the wall, and the cat laps up water from a cistern with a small sign above it that reads, Leave Water On.

Riding Amtrak, back when working and when the family is living in Virginia, he keeps photos in his wallet, one of Lillian, one of Lillian and Jessie, one of all three of them. The wallet has shrunk over time.

What used to be a leather brick, is now a white sliver with a screen, which shows the high definition pictures of his family, and Boeing seven-fifty- and seven-sixty-sevens, as well as photos of great meals and the past year’s Halloween—the carving of the Jack-o-lantern, the costume party—which is Davis’s fondest memory between then and now. Davis dresses as bloody monster and Jessie dresses in a black leotard and is wearing black wings that cling weightless to her back. The two have dressed Lillian as a turboprop biplane, the four wings sticking out on either side like extra limbs.

The costume party is to take place at an acquaintance’s home, one’s home who has been introduced to the Parkers through a man, Charles Osberg, who is also a pilot. Osberg, with his chivalric tone and brown wavy hair, has found a wife, has decided to slow down, to take his time, make money, and create a family, get a better job, travel the world, see the onion tops of the Taj Mahal, the decrepit stones of the Great Wall, the configured steps up the Andes, which the Incas have seeded. Osberg, on Halloween, has announced he has accomplished most of these benchmarks.

“Yet to have kids though,” Charles Osberg says. The ground rumbles and vibrates along with the party guests—the children, the adults, the witches, ghosts, and mummies. Apple bobbing is underway and there is still four bags of apples stashed in the corner away from the bucket. “Yet to have kids,” Osberg says again. “Hey, it’s not like they’re some kind of rare commodity. Too many of them homeless around the world. You should have seen what it was like in Bombay. Ghettos stretching miles. These people run across the runway, Dave, you should see it. They run across the runway when the plane’s coming in. Ghetto’s right next to the airport. God knows what they’re looking for.”

“Good food, good times.”

“Hey, say that again. Lillian’s behind you.”

“Lillian, come over here!” shouts Davis. The girl taxies backwards out of the crowd surrounding the punch bowl. The wings have grown clumsy, bumping into tables and people. “Lillian, you remember Mr. Osberg, right?”

“Mr. Osberg? I think so. Yeah, Mr. Osberg!”

“How are you, Lillian? I’ve been seeing you fly around this party all night. Looks like your having a blast. You’re a lucky girl, Lillian, having this guy as your father.” Lillian nods; the party hums. “You know what? Yes, you even have his eyes.”

“Okay, Charlie,” Davis chuffs.

“No, really. You have his eyes, and because of that I know you’ll be as good a person as him. I can see these things, Lillian”

“Thanks, Charlie. She’s a good girl.”

“Seriously, just don’t forget who brought you into this world, Lillian. Because if you do, there’s no point to this life. You have know where you’ve been and where you’re going. Me? Kuala Lumpur next month.” He laughs.

“Kuala Lumpur, huh?” Davis asks. Where you’ve been, where you’re going. “Never been there.” The party begins buzzing in his ear, like a mosquito. “Maybe one day, huh, Lillian? Maybe you’re on your way to Kuala Lumpur.” The dripping of the punch bowl, the wet faces bobbing for apples. “Never say never, huh, Bird?” No point.

Davis starts noticing the painted-on moles and the green skins of witches with more intensity. He can no longer differentiate who is beneath the rolls and rolls of toilet paper. Dracula’s lips are covered in red blood and he is biting into the neck of a woman, who is laughing. The Joan of Arc leans against the wall in her gnarled armor, looking intoxicated. Jessie is over by the stereo, talking with another patron. A long while has passed since the early days, but the times are moving, moving; she is doing well.

He has not told Charles yet that he is getting transferred to the Miami hub, onto being captain of the seven-forty-seven. Virginia has been a good rush. At long last the planes, the largest planes in the world, are in his palms, at his fingertips. He flies the gargantuan machines into air, feels the heaviness, the lift of the aircraft, lifting him into the skies, where he sees the extensive curvature of the earth, the stenciled coasts and wispy waters of the earth, where he glides across the clouds crocheted at the top of the world, and he thinks, after long, hard work and dedication, With all the going bad on in that world down there, it is really not so bad at all, not so bad at all, all the way up here.

A long, pallid silo juts from between his knuckles. He sits back a moment looking at the Florida starlight. It is a clear night; he has never seen so many stars from his home. It is as if he could pluck one from the sky and pop it into his mouth and taste; they are so vivid.

Humidity low, temperature moderate, visibility ideal, turbines imploding, he feels however facetious. Jessie has almost let it slip. The woman has taken a highway up into dreamland and has almost let it slip. Lillian would have been a mess.

He can understand though. Options are not abundant. Back when they pick her up from the hospital options are not abundant. They have no choice but to adopt; it seems it is not meant to be, them having their own children—Lillian, though, in all senses, in most senses, is their child.

Years of timing and ovulation cycles, countless organic and synthesized supplements, stretching, experimentation, love and hope cannot deem him father of his own child. And he has redoubtable desire. He wishes to see his wife bear a child, he wishes to see her belly grow, he wishes to hold his own child and feel that incomprehensible connection, that connection knowing this child is a part of him, that this child has his blood inside, has his mind and tendencies, his color, his depth and chromosomes and his parents’ chromosomes and their parents’ chromosomes.

And Jessie has almost let it slip. What is the point? If the child knows, the magic is gone. Belief is a strong emotion, but what happens if she is to know? Would he be less a father? The thought tolls like a bell. It has grown redoubtable. She has almost told Lillian she is adopted.

The stars are keeping Davis’s mind taught. Sleeping inside is Lillian in his bed. Jessie is flitting in and out of the bedroom. Davis’s hand is trembling.

His coughing is too loud to be subtle. He takes another drag off the cigarette. Grown on a field out west, this is medicinal, and that makes all the difference. He has his permit to smoke this stuff however shunned it may be for pilots. It is an infrequent habit, smoking, and will be out of the system in less than a week, back, ready, sure for work.

He coughs, rancid, inhaling, and returns his wrist to the armrest. Spicy smoke is filling his sinuses. Already he can feel his body warming, blood collecting in his eyes, home seeming a softer tone. Now, instead of vividness, the world around him is different, though still the same place. He feels some sort of togetherness with the trees, the railing, the grass, that big ball of cheese in the sky, this seat beneath him, its mesh holding him. He can feel himself rising. Toke. Gray smoke filling his lungs and turning him into vapor. He can feel the space around him as a dome, not the trees far away, but the space around him, his personal space; he can feel himself, all within arms reach. 300 degrees North-North-West, incline of 30 degrees, is Jessie, pink and solid.

The bus stop just short of Maslow Rx. was the first time. Another couple of minutes and they would have been running, trying to catch up with Bus D and end up walking, having a cup of coffee at Lyle’s, where they would have their second date, lose their heads, skip town, and go to Mexico for the weekend; but instead they remain tied, shackled, ball and chain, squeezed into two seats on the bus after a quick conversation, and exchanged phone numbers and kisses, and more words, “I’ll have you tomorrow,” croaked into his ear. The prospect of figuring out how to get her to fix her lips would be a true accomplishment; the fragments of bad times and the fuzz of the good in between them keeps them at bounds. The more the merrier, and the less the more you will have to keep at it, making love, a child, or a midnight snack.

Nothing more can enter his skull but more smoke, and the all-superior notion that this time is his. The two girls inside, and the night itself, will keep him rolling on. Aurora Borealis may as well reach as far south as the state of Florida, U.S. of A. on this night, and his little girl, just inside, is sleepy enough to miss if it were visible; she may as well be the one dreaming it up. Penny-copper hair and graphite eyebrows woven into cream skin, woven into the smoke; those small, little nostrils she uses to breathe; her bright voice, bright, much too bright to be kept clotted inside that furry mane.

Psychologists say no two people see the world the same way. Davis wonders just how that chocolate bar tasted to his little girl; did she enjoy the dark chocolate more, or the nuts? He feels pressure at the top of his head—it happens when he smokes this stuff and tonight he needs it—a beam into the skies past the moon and astral dusts, navigating through the planets and constellations, the rings of Saturn too ill-fit for any woman’s finger he has known; he is driven forward, seeing his oblong self blow out of the Milky Way galaxy; the vanilla swirl he knows and loves is shrinking. Home. Does not know where he has been going, where his family is. Past the boundless expanse he slows.

He is tranquil, suspended, floating in space, with nothing surrounding him. All there is to know, here, a wide space available to breathe, and it is his, this incredible airiness, this incomprehensible reality. And he feels that familiar sensation—home. He turns an outward eye further away, but can see blackness, blackness in all directions. There is no difference no matter which way he looks. The blackness can go on forever. Before the day starts, he almost feels the charged weight of the world descending on him, the cushion of his bed and sheets, and it is gone just as he wakes, unattainable.

Days in the sky, and the world is the same, the whole world, a simple jump away. He takes one final toke, and is burned by the filter’s heat; it has been smoked down so close. Not just the opening of the glass door jounces him, but his daughter’s sigh as well from inside, and he rises, flicks the non-existent cigarette over the balcony rail, and returns into his bedroom.

The pink and blue checked coverlet, wrapped around little Lillian like a roll, the little pink piglets of her toes poking from the open ends. He, nonsensical, accepts that this is his, this is what he made his life up to be, a caricature of locales around the world, as if the little tokens he brought home capture the outlandish reality of their respective birthplaces.

“Lets get her to bed.”

Davis flinches, having forgot he is not alone, that Jess is there. “I’ll get her.” The smoke clings to his shirt. “Little girl, are you ready to go to your own bed? Lil?” A nod of her head and extended arms tells Davis and his apparition of a wife that she is quite ready for bed.

“Good, Lil, come on.” Quick and purposeful steps draw the two closer to the girl’s yellow walled room. Davis is quick in putting her to bed, so she does not get too roused and wake them up at three A.M. “Good night, Lillian. I’ll see you tomorrow. Pleasant dreams—”

“How was she?”

“Out like a light.”

“Fantastic. Are you tired?”

“Not quite,” Davis says, crawling under the covers. The bed is still warm where Lillian has been sleeping.

“You know you are a good father.”

“She almost found out tonight that I’m not her father at all, thanks to you.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You would have if I didn’t shove that sugar cookie in your mouth. What were you thinking?”

“She has to find out someday,” says Jess. “Just—”

“Just let it happen naturally.”

“That’s how I do things. Naturally,” says Jess, her nails caressing Davis’s arm. “It wouldn’t have been so bad.”

“Not so bad for you.”

“Dave, stay quiet. Quiet your mind. Pretend you’re in an airplane.” Davis senses a change in air pressure. “Pretend we’re in an airplane together. Does it get cold in the cockpit?”

“Sometimes.”

“Pretend we’re in a cockpit,” says Jess. “Pretend we’re the only ones in the cockpit.”

“Not hard to do.”

“Pretend I’m the airplane. Take me somewhere, Dave,” caressing his chest. “Take me somewhere,” pinching his nipple.

Vessels dilated, influx at one-hundred percent, the descent is definite. Tweaking one side, she raises his shirt and traces clouds into his chest. “Pretend we’re over the Antarctic,” bending and nibbling each nipple. And descending.

“How about Africa,” Davis says. “I’ve never been to Africa.”

“Africa is nice.”

The teeming wilderness, the bush, the animals, the jungle cats. God knows what goes on in Africa, must be a great place, a heathen place, hot. Virile. She tickles his sack. The place is full of life. Green, green. Yellow grass. Hot pink skies. The bed is burning. And his eyes are dilating further. This woman is a lion. He has never been to Africa. Or to many places in the southern hemisphere, for that matter. The bed is hotter than the Serengeti—wildlife is sprouting, children are shouting, lions are roaring—the wildlife of Africa is at his fingertips, her hair tangled, and it seems for just a second, home, this exotic climate. This is as close as he will get. This moment, before it all slips away.

A coy itching on his back springs his attention. He squirms to itch it and she laughs, down in the brush, hunting.

Bringing back the arch to her hips, the glow from the hallway light lights up her lower torso, its two little dimples, its full moon, a Goddess. He tickles her ear; she has on earrings he has not seen. Jess mounts him and just before melting, he thinks he is sleeping in a stranger’s bed, one who is working his undeniable black magick from where nothing comes. He wants to find an herb that makes him potent in bed, rather than in mind. Pins and needles and he will soon be fast asleep, under the nuances of the other parents, Lillian’s biological parents, the ones he wanted to be. He cannot wrap his head around the thought, who were they? But maybe it would come tomorrow, what he is looking for—life, truth—maybe it would come sometime in the night, like a visit from a stork, or a spirit. Maybe it would come to him. The one truth, though, reigns clear to him, the truth being: he has fathered this lie.

The lurid darkness is disturbed by a knock, not metallic or wooden, but of glass. A snarl, raising the hairs on his arms and neck, is heard, followed by the star struck vibration of purring. He is seeing through his closed eyelids.

The Knock! Knock! of the moment is halted by the citrine and amethyst glare of a jungle beast—a lion—who is staring back at him, with the innate intellect of felines. The beast is power. He is helpless, he notices, just before taking a knee, naked. The jungle cat snarls and shows for a glimpse his teeth.

The vision opens to a boundless expanse, an interior notion of gargantuan borders, his knees brushing against the fronds and savanna grass and sound—the locusts, thousands of them—flying upwards into the cirrostratus clouds, the crest of consciousness, of Africa. The wind takes his attention to the west, where the ball of incredulous fire flames, the Sun warming his skin and emblazoning the beast’s eyes, the warmth inviting the pilot into the bosom of mother Africa. He is here.

The lion strafes across his periphery. His phantasmagoric coat and iridescent eyes anchor him, keeping him from soaring toward the light. And he turns south toward the lion and hears again the Knock! Knock! which seems to be coming from the top of his skull, this knocking, the choking fallacy of tears, heat, sun, and sparks. His mind is riveted, ever-changed in this infinite moment. “Wake up,” calls the knock, blurred by a higher frequency. The dichotomy of earth and air are finding each other. And the words, “Wake up,” the knocks, the tears, the omni-flowing shards and jewels pouring now from the beast’s glare, push Davis Parker toward nostalgia; he is out of step, not meant to witness the regal matter of this place. “Wake up!” He turns, and somewhere in the non-space between he and the distant tree line is a forsaken pane of glass. And the knocking calls—“Wake up! Wake up!”—heard by him, his lasting recognition of this lion.

Planes. That is what they are. He is looking through the planes, looking through the window onto the landscape below, the planes that take him from place to place, which blast the light back off him and into the eye of the sun; he has been kissed.

His vision dims to a gray darkness, this place never to be seen again.

His vision returns, the Sun, draping him in the barcode that never fails to present itself. Jess is awake; she is not in bed, and he can smell again the Kenyan brew downstairs. A quick puree and what was once a bean is now powder. Try grinding beans with your own hands. Impossible! Nevertheless, the smell calls and he is downstairs, his arms around his wife, Lillian playing on her handheld.

“I had a crazy dream last night, dad,” she says.

“A crazy dream?” Davis replies. “A crazy dream. What happened?”

“I was swimming in water and there were fish all around me.”

Davis pats her head, walks to the coffee machine, and then pours himself a cup of Kenyan coffee.

It is the day before his next trip. He will fly out to New York and boast the seven hour commute to nowhere as he lands with grace on the tarmac. But today, the Osbergs are over for dinner. Jess has been working, preparing sauce and potatoes, while Davis is outside grilling the mahi-mahi. The smoke rises into his eyes.

Thirty years he has been flying these planes, along the pathways of the gods and still cooking right here in this spot is his favorite place in the world. This grill, the same old smoke, the same old tears, sweat, and salivation. He sips his beer. Fruity, the ale smacks his lips and he loves it, the air, the frothy bubbles, the buzz. It just keeps going. The fun never stops. It just keeps rolling and rolling, like wheels on a hill with kids inside them. Lillian is in the pool with her floaties, trying to see if she can hold her breath for more than thirty seconds, looking for fish.

The Osbergs will be coming in about thirty minutes from now, them and their two kids, along with their casserole, which Charlie Osberg has leaked to Davis is incredible. Charlie has also confided he is trying to keep everything under his belt, working out of London now, a little too far from the sunshine down here in the South, but it does well for him, he says. A little rain never hurt anyone.

The doorbell rings and Jess answers it in her canary yellow sundress, the same she wears every Saturday evening when they have people over. It is like a tradition. It gives her this glow she likes, and the house mirrors it back. It is a good ultimatum. It makes the visitors feel just right.

She answers with her normal cheer, “Hey, Charlie, Beth, welcome! Come in!” And the date is off—the cheery noise, the kids laughing and screaming, the men huddle after minutes outside, polishing off another one of those cold ones, the ladies swirling their dresses, the sun bright and the sky blue and ivory.

“It’s much too great, being back in the state of Florida,” says Charlie. “I miss it.”

“Gets me every time,” says Davis. “Every time I come back, it gets me, how healthy the air is. It seems full of vitamins, minerals, somehow.”

Charlie’s two boys are chasing Lillian. She has cooties, they say. They are trying to cure her. The mahi-mahi is begging to be eaten. The potatoes are bursting. And underneath it all, the bellies are being thrummed with the anticipation of another child, Beth’s third. “We’re not sure what we’re going to name it. In fact, we’re going to wait to see the gender.”

“Indeed,” says Davis, glad for his friend.

The kids are out, tired, watching T.V. for the last hour before the Osbergs head home, back to the hotel. “It’s Disney tomorrow,” says Charlie. “The kids have never been.”

“Likewise, neither has Lil.” With a farewell kiss, the party disperses. The morning comes, the sun is blistering, the birds are chirping, and eyes are wide.

Davis Parker is walking down the jetway, checks his watch, and sees he is right on time. The plane will leave on schedule and they will be in New York for dinner. But something is missing. Between the drive out here, security, thinking about last night’s meal—the boys, the Osbergs—he notices that the flame is gone. He knows what he needs. He needs the sky.

Luminescence blots out his vision of the world, the dials and switches, the gauges and frequencies. He sees now his life. As they taxi out, out toward where the ground ends and the air begins, he feels electricity, a twinge in his belly, the controls in his palms, the headset over his ears. He hears the words, “You are clear for takeoff.” And he pushes the throttle. One-hundred-and-five tons of steel and cargo gets pushed by the Rolls Royce engines off the ground, at an incline of thirty degrees. He sees the clear image: the blue sky, crowning in through the windshield. It has hit; this is life. A blue sky limitless in the horizon, a child to raise and make one’s own, a clue in life, where it is going, where to turn.

Far down, people are tiny, buildings are bricks, cars are toys. They fall away, too far below to be seen. The incline is too high, the angle too small. He needs to find a way, he thinks, a way to capture this feeling, like a firefly in a jar. Because that is what life is like, a firefly, and we are all just seeing it along, watching it live out its life. Everything he has known is in one glass case, delicate snow falling over the houses below. He is nearing New York. Through the windows, into the blue expanse through which he is flying, he captures a person, a long-faced, a bonafide revolutionary. He descends, lands the plane on the ground. His feet are anchored and he breathes in the cold air of New York. Flurries turn to a heavy snowfall. He is in the north again, but feels home more than ever, a wandering, lustful person, finding everything he has needed—a stratum that is never-ending, one ample and his to nurture.


Anders M. Svenning was born in New York. He started writing with seriousness at the age of nineteen and has now been published in many literary magazines throughout the United States and abroad. Some of the most recent include Good Works Review, The Furious Gazelle, and The Bracelet Charm. He is the author of 50 States Poetry (Pansophic Press), Verdant Grounds, Subtle Boundaries (Adelaide Books), Otus in Betulaceæ (Adelaide Books), Occipital Circus & Other Stories Regarding Phrenology (HellBound Books), and Life After Schizophrenia (Scarlet Leaf Publishing House) and has a forthcoming book titled Affe and the Candle to be released in early 2021 by Adelaide Books. Anders M. Svenning lives in Palm City, Florida.

The Poet’s Hand, the Fool’s Tongue

A poem by Geoffrey Heptonstall


Say what you have seen with words
that we may understand
what moves the world in harmony
with the laws of transformation.
Say what you have seen
of those who are passing by the door
that is open, like a mouth
that sings of many heavens.

*

The wolves patrol the midnight streets,
keeping silence like a secret
that is the way to survive
the indifference of nature.
There may be a purpose found
when all that can be happens.
Until then there is the forest
where stealth is the watchword.

They see an old man’s madness
that summons the spirit of night
as the wolves reach the city limit.
The king and his daughters,
two of whom are treacherous,
are told in many tales
The fool is he who tells it well.

*

Snow falling in spring stills the world
that was listening for birdsong.
Flowers, bewildered, fail so see
the life they were promised underground.
For the poor the answer is written
in the tracks of barefoot children
returning home from a day’s labor.

The poet’s hand warms at the candle
as the light of his art fades.
If you seek his memorial
then read the life in words.
They were spoken in the fields of youth
before he found taverns to his taste.
Words have no season but always.

The Dog That Howled All Night

A poem by Geoffrey Heptonstall


“What does not change is the will to change.”

– Charles Olson


Of a possible election:
then in the sight of darkness
a lantern light
moving to close of day
above all the armadillos
from the vantage tower
in celestial time chiming…

Of the harvest angel
scattering our marvels
at the sight of disaster
naming where the stones
keep silence on vacant ground
when fate may seem indifferent
though this life is familiar…

Of a lyrical persuasion:
invisible in the ruins
too late to save the spirit
that blessed the city opening
to the world’s worst
and in there hearing
the dog that howled all night…

Have Heart

A short story by Benel Germosen


My heart walked out on me today. It just left. I woke up and it was standing by the door, looking up at me thorough its ventricles. It was just staring at me, not saying a word. Then it turned around and walked out the door. I didn’t get up and go after it. I figured it just needed to take a walk on its own. When I came back from work though, it was still gone. I haven’t seen it since.

I was a little bit relieved at first. My heart hadn’t been working well for months. It ached at times and it made it hard to breathe. It used to pump just enough to move the blood around. My heart was threading water for a long time. I didn’t appreciate the lack of effort.

Sometimes it would just stop dead on me. If I was stressed out or working too hard or if I was laying on my back or something, it would just stop beating. I had to punch myself in the chest to get it going again. I could tell it didn’t enjoy that because it would tighten up as soon as I did it, but what was I supposed to do? I like my blood. I like having a heartbeat.

Anyway, I thought things had gotten better. My heart seemed happy to be beating again, but I don’t know. It’s been two days and my heart isn’t back yet. I’m starting to get worried.

~

Things are weird for me without a heart. For one thing, I notice things. I’m not more alert and attentive but I notice things. I notice things about people, about how they act around each other, and the decisions they make, and how they form relationships. I talk a lot less too. I don’t say much to people at work anymore. It’s made me more productive, I think. I’m getting a lot more done.

I’ve taken extra shifts at the firm, working late on weekdays assessing account overheads. I’ve gotten our books straightened out and about four years of balanced budgets done from here to 2016. I might do estimates for the four years after that, but I don’t know. I haven’t decided if I should start on that or spreadsheets.

Anyway, yeah. Things are a lot different now that my heart is gone. I sleep a lot these days. I go to bed at eight and I wake up around six. I get home at around four and decide what do then. I used to watch T.V or read or play music or work out, but none of these things interest me anymore.

My Saturdays are my days off, so one week I started cleaning my apartment. I cleaned the floors and the windows. Then I cleaned the walls and the rooms. I make the beds; I dust the vacuum and arrange the things I own. It takes most of the day to get everything in its right place, but I take my time.

I wake up early on Saturdays to do it and then I go to sleep around eight. I finished scrubbing the bathroom tiles today. Everything is now clean and organized.

Clean and oraganized.

~

I put everything I owned into boxes and labeled them. I went through the house, organizing things. Now my house is neat and tidy. Neat and tidy. Clean and organized. There was nothing left for me to do after work, after everything was boxed and put in its place, so I started going for walks.

I like taking walks. I get to see things. I notice a lot more things now. I notice how disorderly things are compared to my apartment and that the outside world is just filled with things out of place. The hallway leading up to my apartment is crooked. On the sidewalks, there are cracks and holes where weed grows up thorough the cement. Cars don’t stop when the light turns red. No, they slow a little while after and then stop, as if the light would do them a favor and just let them pass. I noticed that people don’t wait in straight lines.

There is a lot of disorder with people. I hear people talk around me all the time. If you’re really quiet and listen, people don’t notice you, so they say things they normally won’t say.

People at work talk. Susie in accounts is sleeping with Rob in I.T. and Rob is married with kids and Susie might be pregnant. Least that’s what Janis told Becky in the break-room. Arnold works in the cubical next to me and he wants to get promoted. Anthony, our supervisor, said that Arnold is probably getting laid off at the end of the month. He and a few other people.

I think that should be funny, but I can’t seem to laugh anymore.

It’s been three months since my heart left. I don’t miss it, but I think I should.

I was in Cleveland for a business conference this week. There was a convention downstairs and Anthony talked me into getting passes and walking the floor. It was a sales convention and he thought it would be a great way to network. Anthony talked to people while I watched and listen.

The convention was disorganized, but at least it put on a professional face. A lot of people were unhappy waiting outside the hotel ballroom before it opened. The organizers tried to placate the people with complementary buttons. The people behind the booths were disorganized too. Some were late, some were under-prepared. Flyers and leaflets and papers were left out on tables in neat piles, but when
people took them they didn’t bother to restack them. I noticed that and it should have bothered me but it didn’t. It was just something I noticed.

I know when things should bother me. When something is out of place or something isn’t right, it should bother me but it doesn’t. I notice things, lots of things and lots of should bother me but nothing does. It know that’s not good, but I can’t change things. I don’t have a heart anymore.

After the conference, Anthony and I went to the hotel bar. Anthony wanted to talk to me about accounts when he started drinking. The more he drank the less he talked about work and the more he talked about the cute booth attendant at one of the tables. Finally, he stopped talking to me and started talking to another guy at the bar and eventually he left with him. I stayed at the bar.

I ordered a mojito because I remember thinking that I used to like them a lot and I was trying to figure out why. A woman sat next to me and ordered a white wine spritzer. She wore a pale purple dress with heels and a mother of pearl necklace coiled around her neck and I thought she looked pretty but I didn’t say anything to her.

I sipped my drink and she looked at me and she smiled. I looked at her from the corner of my eye and then I smiled, because that’s what you do when people smile at you. I turned my eyes back to the bar. After a while, I noticed that she was still smiling at me.

“Yes? Do I know you?” she said, but I shook my head. She didn’t stop staring. “Yeah, yeah, I know you. I saw you around last year. Um… what was it? … the Telefax retreat in Austin. You were there and there was another guy. What was his name?”

“Arnold?”

“Yeah. Arnold.”

“Right.”

“Yeah… You don’t remember me?”

Last year, I went to a company retreat. There were motivational seminars and a weekend of conferences and bar-hops. I got drunk one night and sang karaoke at the bar in front of a bunch of people. Arnold was there. So were Anthony and a few other people. She was a speaker at one of the seminars and might have been there, I think. I didn’t remember her name.

“I know… I know.” She cupped a hand around the glass and sang into it like a microphone. “’Don’t cry. Don’t raise your eye. It’s only teenage wasteland.’ That was you, right? The Who guy?”

I looked at her and after a while I nodded.

“Yeah.” I said. “I’m the Who guy.”

She laughed at that. I didn’t know why. She must have thought it was funny.

“Oh man, you were so great. You were the highlight of the retreat. That thing you did off the stage…”

During the breakdown to “Baba O’Reilly,” I windmilled my arm like Pete Townsend and caught the edge of the microphone stand, cutting open my hand. I was spurting blood but I finished the song. I even managed to slide off the stage on my knees. I was drunk and I sang all the way to the hospital.

She looked at me and smiled and ordered another white wine spritzer.

“So, how’s your hand?”

“Good.”

“Okay. Good. Good.”

We were silent for a while and then she said, “What are you drinking?”

“Mojito.”

“Is it good?”

“I dunno. They used to be.”

She laughed again. I looked at her.

She ordered me a fourth mojito and I ordered her a white wine spritzer. I listened to her start talking and we kept drinking. I was drunk but I didn’t feel buzzed. She was drunk and she couldn’t stop giggling. The bar closed at eleven and we stumbled out into the hotel lobby.

She said, “Do you wanna…?”

“Wanna what?”

She smiled at me and I must have smiled back because she licked her lips and took my hand.

“Oh…” she said. “Your hands are cold.”

“Yeah.” I never noticed that before.

We went up to her room. We fucked a couple of times. At around three, we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

When I woke up, her side of the bed was empty. The shower was running in the bathroom. When she got out, she seemed surprised.

“Oh.”

“Hi.”

“I thought you’d be getting dressed already.”

“Um…”

On the dresser was a ring and she walked across the room and took it and put it on. She looked different with it. She wasn’t the woman in the purple dress and the mother of pearls. She looked older. Like someone’s mom or their wife. She was the same woman but her skin seemed different.

“Look, uh… I wish I didn’t have to say this but…you’re a nice guy and… I mean, no. I mean… you know that last night was—“

I looked at her and she bit down on her lip.

“I was really drunk.” She said.

“Yeah.”

She sighed and then she had this look in her eyes like she was going to rip off a Band-Aid.

“You should go.”

I got dressed and left.

~

My heart left me a voice mail. It said:

Hey, hey pal. Long time, huh? You miss me? How’s everything? Are you okay? Are you doing alright? I was just hoping to hear from you. I’m in New Orleans at a jazz festival. I’m a little… I’m little drunk right now to be honest and I was just… I was wondering what you were up to.

Look, I kinda wanted to tell you… I mean, I wanted to talk about… I wanted to let you know that I’m doing alright. I know it’s been a few months and everything and I Just want you to know that I’m okay and I’ll be home soon.

Look, I’m not proud of the way I did—I mean, what I did. I’m not proud of walking out like that, but I’m proud that I did walk out at all. I got out and… and I went to see the country man. I went to Venice Beach, I went to the Grand Canyon. I hiked up the Rockies. I saw Florida! I went… Oh man, listen to me rambling on. Look…

How can I say this? I guess there’s no right way to say it. I’ll just… say it. I just… I miss you. I didn’t realize how much until last night, though. I didn’t realize…

I’ve been doing some soul searching and I came to realize that I can’t be mad at anyone. Everything that happened, it… it wasn’t your fault and it wasn’t my fault. I mean, it was and then it wasn’t. It’s not all you and it’s not all me. It’s about us, together, who we are as people. People and bodily organs.

There’s things I want that I can’t get from you and there’s things that you want that I can’t give you. I can’t be your lovely little metronome and you can’t be my thrill-a-minute… Indiana Jones, I
guess. I have to pump. I need to squeeze. I need to feel life flow through me. I can’t just do twenty minutes on the elliptical—“Here you go!”

That’s not me. I have to feel… something. Even if it’s just loneliness.

But I still shouldn’t have left you hanging. I hurt you and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to abandon you. It’s just… I’m sorry. I wanna come home, man. I wanna come home. There’s just a few more things I’ve got to do here. There’s a few more things I need before I come back. I just wanted to call and tell you to wait for me. Can you just wait for me, please? I’m going to be home soon, okay? Just… just wait for me… okay? 

I love you. Bye.

~

I take a shower but my hands are still cold and clammy. The sun is going down. I’m lying in bed and I’m thinking about the last few months. I think about my heart and I remember it beating in my chest and how it used to make me feel. The blood coursing thorough my veins, hot and red. I think I miss the blood pumping the most. I miss the feeling of being alive. Sitting here, in my bed, I think I should be feeling hope right now.

But I don’t.

 

The End

The Daily Mail

A short story by Jason Feingold


John Schwartzkopf awoke to the police banging on his door. After last night, he wasn’t surprised to find the Mail Nazis had come for him. They were going to disappear him like they had so many other mail objectors in the past. With no friends or sympathetic followers to protect him, no one would know he was missing. He’d simply fall off the face of the earth. He wasn’t going to let that happen. If he was going to die, he was damn sure going to make sure that as many citizens as possible knew what was going down.

He took an old .38 revolver his grandfather had left him and tucked into the waistband of the pants he had hurriedly put on. After donning a t-shirt, he went to the front door and opened it, but he left the screen door closed.

“Are you John Schwartzkopf?” the officer asked.

“That’s me.”

“I have some questions for you. Can I come in?”

“Sure.”

John backed away from the door, leaving it to the police officer to open the screen door on his own. As the cop was doing so, with his hand occupied by being on the handle of the door, John drew his weapon. The officer jumped back and went for his own gun, but John had the drop on him, and to prove it he fired a warning shot. He’d meant for it to go to the right of the officer, but it grazed the cop’s left arm instead.

“Step inside,” John ordered. “Drop your belt.” The officer complied with difficulty, his left arm being useless for the moment.

“Now take out your handcuffs, and no funny business.” The officer did as he was told. “Go to the kitchen and handcuff both your hands to the refrigerator door.” John gave the officer a wide berth as he did so. In a moment, the officer was handcuffed to the handle of the refrigerator door and dripping blood slowly on the kitchen floor. He writhed in pain.

“You don’t want to do this,” the cop said. “They’ll come looking for me. This can only end one way.”

“I know that,” John said. “I knew it as soon as you knocked on my door.”

“Uncuff me,” the officer said. “Turn yourself in. It’ll go easier on you if you do. You’ll get a plea bargain.”

“If only that were true. I’m not going to let you storm troopers send me to the Postal Re-Education Centers that easily,” John said. “Not until everyone knows about you Mail Nazis and your Mail Führer.”

* * *

John could not remember a time he had not hated the mail. As far as he was concerned, nothing good ever came by mail.

He knew what time the mail usually came. He could pick out the sound of the mail truck from anywhere in the house. He could hear it stop and go as it came down the block. He couldn’t ignore it. His heart would leap into his throat, and the only way to get it back where it belonged was to go and check the mailbox. He was drawn to the box the way a dog is drawn to its own vomit.

The mail brought student loan default notices, threatening letters from child support enforcement, and notices of garnishment.

The absolute worst thing he could find in the mailbox was a notice that he would have to go to the post office to pick up a certified letter. If nothing good ever came from the mailbox, then certified letters were absolutely diabolical. He’d have to wait until the next day to pick it up – twenty-four hours of excruciating angst spent wondering how bad it was, knowing that the ax was sure to fall. In this, he was usually correct. Legal papers came by certified mail describing various actions that had been brought against him to get more money out of him.

One day a thought popped into his head out of nowhere: the mail was the problem – not his ex-wife, not Navient, but the mail itself. Mail was the medium through which the tyrants of money enslaved people. The whole concept of mail was abominable, and it had to go. If a document were that important, the people who were out to get his money could deliver it by themselves. His resolution to combat the Mail Nazis was firm.

He was going to stop the mail.

* * *

“Now where’s your phone?” John asked the captive officer.

“In my right front pants pocket.”

John set his .38 on the stove and went toward the subdued officer.

“If you try anything, I’ll shoot you again,” John said.

The officer nodded. John retrieved the phone.

“Who are you calling?” the cop asked mildly.

“911.”

John put the phone on speaker.

“911,” the phone said. “What is your emergency?”

“My name is John Schwartzkopf. I’m at 543 Oakfield Drive. I’m holding Officer, what’s your name?”

“Bradley. Ed Bradley.”

“I’m holding Officer Ed Bradley at gunpoint. I have a list of demands.”

“Is he okay?” the operator asked.

“Tell them,” John ordered.

“Shot in the arm,” Bradley said. “Not seriously. Hurts like a bitch, though.”

“Shut up,” John said.

“What are your demands?”

Sirens spoke out in the distance.

“I’ll tell the person in charge.”

“Who is that, sir?”

“You know who.”

“No, I don’t, sir.”

“If you want to play games, we’ll play games,” John said. “I want to talk to the Mail Führer.”

He hung up the phone.

* * *

John began his anti-mail campaign by writing to the head of the USPS.

Dear Postmaster General,

I am writing to you today to demand that all postal services be stopped. All the mail does is deliver bad news from bad people to good people who deserve good news. Mail is all about taking money away from people who don’t have much money and giving it to people who already have enough money. As a citizen and a taxpayer, I have a right to demand that you stop the mail immediately. As a civil servant, you need to honor my request.

Sincerely,

John Schwartzkopf

He waited a few weeks for a response, but nothing came back in the mail. He wasn’t surprised. The mail people were all going to stick together on this one. They were afraid of honest work. After all, they made money with each letter they delivered. That would stop, at least as far as he was concerned. He got online and put an indefinite stop delivery on his mail.

Afterward, John took a bottle of lighter fluid to his mailbox and set it on fire, watching the plastic that had been approved by the Postmaster General bubble and melt and drip to the ground as it burned. Didn’t the Postmaster General have anything better to do than approve mailboxes? By the time he was done, there was nothing left but a metal post sticking out of the ground. With a fair degree of effort, he removed it and chucked it into his garage.

A few weeks later his cable TV stopped working. Then the lights went out. Then the water was shut off. Finally, his telephones, both landline, and cell, stopped working, even though he hadn’t received a bill from any of them.

Dear Postmaster General,

Clearly, my last letter fell on deaf ears that don’t want to see the truth. If you think that your lackeys in cable, water, electricity, and telephone can stop me from exercising my RIGHT to demand that the mail be stopped, you’ve got another thing coming. I know that the Constitution requires the government to redress grievances, and you are required to redress mine by halting all mail activity both at home and abroad.

Sincerely,

John Schwartzkopf

P.S. – Restore my utilities immediately!

Still, there was no response.

Postmaster General,

If you don’t honor my demand that the mail be stopped, I will have to
resort to further action.

John Schwartzkopf

It was only after John sent the last letter that he realized that the Postmaster General was, in fact, the Mail Führer. He studied some stamps he had stuck in the kitchen drawer. If he looked closely enough, he could see the swastika cleverly embedded in each picture the stamps contained. Well, he wasn’t a hundred percent sure it was a swastika, but it was close enough to count.

The Mail Führer completely ignored him, so it was time to take his message to the street. He put a sign in his front yard that said “End the dictatorship of the Post Office! Tell the Mail Führer to STOP THE MAIL NOW!” Once he put it up, he sat in front of his living room window to see if anyone was reading it. He concluded that they were, because a lot of cars slowed down in front of his house, presumably to study it. Some of them tooted their horns.

On the second day, the mail truck pulled up in front of it while John was watching. He couldn’t be sure because of the viewing angle, but he was pretty confident that the mailman spat on it. John was so angry he came out of his house with a bat to confront the Mail Nazi, but the man drove away in his truck before John could open the door.

“Fuck you!” John called out down the street at the truck. “Drive away like a scared little
Nazi bastard!” More than a few neighbors stopped and stared.

It was time for the revolution to begin.

* * *

John sat on the kitchen floor. He had his .38 revolver and Bradley’s .40 caliber Glock and two fully loaded magazines next to him. He could see blue and red lights through the covers of every window in his line of sight. He knew his house was surrounded. He knew he was already dead.

Bradley’s phone rang.

“Hello?”

“This is Sergeant Bill Murphy. I’m calling to talk to you about your demand.”

“I want to talk to the Mail Führer,” John repeated. “If that doesn’t happen, Ed Bradley here is as good as dead in sixty minutes. Tick tick tick.”

“Let’s stay calm,” Murphy said. “Can you tell me who the Mail Führer is?”

“Like you don’t know. She’s the person in charge. She’s the one who cuts your marching orders.”

The line went silent for a time.

“Do you mean the Postmaster General?” Murphy asked.

“So you do know,” John said in an “ah-ha” voice.

* * *

Before the police came and after his nightly ritual of filling his water bottles from his neighbor’s hose, he left the house dressed all in black with his aluminum baseball bat laying across his shoulder. He had duct-taped a towel around the bat to muffle the sound. As he roamed through the neighborhood bashing mailboxes, he imagined how grateful his neighbors would be once they discovered that they couldn’t get mail anymore. He hoped a few of them might take up his cause, going into other neighborhoods and relieving good, honest working families from the totem pole of fear and hate and repression symbolized by their rural route mail receptacles.

* * *

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to get her here in sixty minutes,” Murphy said. “Is there someone else you’d like to talk to?”

“Yes. A TV news crew. I don’t care which station.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Sergeant Murphy said. “You release Officer Bradly, and I’ll get that news crew for you.”

“Are you kidding? Do you really think I’m that stupid?”

“I don’t think you’re stupid, John.”

“You better not. Because I’m not stupid. You have an hour to get the TV people or I’m going to pop another cap into this Mail Nazi’s ass.”

With that, John hung up the phone again.

* * *

“They’re here,” Sergeant Murphy called and said forty-five minutes later.

“Send them in.”

“I’m not stupid either, John,” Murphy said. “I’m not giving you more hostages.”

“I’ll send Officer Ed out if you send the reporter and the cameraman in,” I said grudgingly.

“No deal.”

“I’ll send them out again when I’m done.”

“I can’t do that, John. You know that.”

“I’ll still have a couple of guns,” John said. “We’ll get to have our shootout.”

“No one wants that,” Murphy said.

“If you don’t send the camera crew in, I’m going to shoot this cop in the thigh. I’m not sure when the femoral artery is, so I hope I miss it when I shoot him so he doesn’t bleed out all over the floor. I’m not going to shoot him with this piss-ant .38 either. I’m going to use his Glock.”

“Wait a minute,” Murphy said quickly. “Let me see if the news people are willing to go in.”

John waited.

“I want you to know this isn’t personal,” John said to Bradley. “You’re just on the wrong side.”

“Sure,” Bradley said. “I understand.” John knew he didn’t understand. He was just a soldier following orders, blissfully unaware of the tremendous evil he was doing.

Murphy came back on the line.

“They’re willing to go in,” Murphy said. “I’ll let them go in when Bradley comes out.”

“You’re treating me like I’m stupid again,” John said. “You send them in and I’ll send Bradley out.”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“I haven’t lied to you so far,” he said.

“Okay,” Murphy said. “We’ll do it your way. I’m taking an awful risk. Make sure you keep your word.”

“Tell them I’m in the kitchen,” John said.

A male reporter and a cameraman entered the house and went to the kitchen. John held the gun on them. He had the reporter retrieve Bradley’s handcuff key and let him loose.

“Go,” John commanded. Bradley left without hesitation. John stood up and turned to the reporter.

“Start interviewing me,” John said.

The cameraman manipulated some buttons on the camera and gave a thumbs-up.

“I’m here at the residence of Mr. John Schwartzkopf,” the reporter said. “Mr. Schwartzkopf was holding a police officer hostage, but he released the officer in exchange for my cameraman and myself entering the residence.

“Why are you doing this, Mr. Schwartzkopf?” the reporter asked, shoving the microphone in John’s face.

“I’ll tell you why. I hope the people who are watching are paying attention because they’re about to hear the truth.

“For hundreds of years, people have suffered the tyranny of the Postal Service and the dictatorship of the Mail Führer. Nothing ever good comes in the mail, and that’s an understatement. The USPS uses the police to let all of the big corporations to send enormous bills to everyday people who are tricked into believing that they actually need to pay money to receive services like cable, electricity, water, etc. People don’t know that the big corporations don’t actually need the money. All they do with the money is line the pockets of the fat-cat CEOs on Wall Street.

“Even dogs know that the Mail Nazis are evil. Trust your dog. Trust your instincts. You know I’m right. Anyone in a uniform is a Mail Nazi. Take it to the street. Abolish the postal system now.”

John stopped talking.

“Is that it?” asked the reporter.

“That’s it,” John said.

“What are you going to do now?” he asked. John admired the fact that the reporter seemed so calm. In the same situation, he’d be shaky and stuttering. Come to think of it, his situation wasn’t much different.

“I’m going to send you out,” John said. “Thanks for coming in. It was very brave. I hope the Mail Nazis don’t do anything to you for coming in here.”

John watched them go. After a few minutes of silent reflection, he held the Glock in his right hand and the .38 in his left. He walked out the front door, taking aim at the nearest Mail Nazi.

He didn’t get a single shot off before he heard the loud pop that knocked him off his feet. Sitting up against the door jam, he looked down at his chest. Blood was flowing freely. It wouldn’t be long until he was dead.

A policeman in tactical gear approached him from behind a riot shield. He moved the shield to the side as he knelt down in front of John.

“Right conspiracy, wrong conspirators, comrade,” the policeman whispered. He bopped John on the head with a hammer, and then a sickle came out of nowhere and tore out John’s throat.

Woodland Pond

A poem by Richard King Perkins II


Through the stray ebb of night,
swirls of black water form her

in a meager grove
of orange-leafed trees.

She studies the bracken and reeds,
looks past the embankment

to figures standing in the distance;
the man in the straw hat

leaning on a grey fence
talking to his daughter.

In a few desperate sentences
he speaks of things to deny or embrace

the endless sky
the empty earth

ghosts of the north country
conspiring with fire.

The girl listens momentarily,
begins to drift away

floating through leaves
and tresses of moss

alighting on a small shoreline—
folding in, turning back.


Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, Illinois with his wife, Vickie, and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best of the Web nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.