Superman

A creative essay by G. David Schwartz


My eight-year-old son goes into a frenzy each time Clark Kent leaves Lois Lane and returns as Superman. The child is sufficiently wise, or sufficiently naive, to know that clothes do not make the person.

Clothes occasionally, however, unmake the person.

People should not be fooled by the removal of glasses or a slight modification in the way a person wears a hat or carries a glove. My son, at such a tender age, is capable of cutting through the superficiality of appearance in order to reach the ontology of identity.

He knows that Clark Kent is Superman and Superman is Clark Kent. He is not yet, at age eight, to the stage where he knows that Superman is Steve Rieves, or George Reeves.

The identities of Clark Kent and the Man of Steel are frequent topics of conversation in our house. Why doesn’t Lois notice the obvious?

Why doesn’t Jimmy? Lois claims to have a romantic interest in Superman and to resist the supposed romantic intentions of Kent. Jimmy claims to be Clark’s best friend.

To complicate matters, these people are reporters, trained with a critical eye. Perhaps the Superman series, movie, and television revival are a collective satire?

In each of the venues through which Superman has made an incarnation, including the comic book, Superman engages our willing suspension of disbelief against the hard and newsworthy evidence of our eyes. Or, as Dan puts it, they are stupid. Neither of us are convinced that the issue of putting on or taking off glasses as a disguise of identity is a secret meant to be shared between the “actors” and the audience. Dan might say the “actors” want us to be as daft as Lois and Jimmy.

In my opinion, the writers and producers are propagating the obviously false idea that small changes betoken major events, a notion that might help them sell mascara or hair coloring, ointments and creams.

I have to admit that I enjoy Dan’s agony or, more correctly, the fact that his mild disturbance results in our continually talking about the issue.

The television, movie, and comic book’s loss of recognition is our gain. I also enjoy the fact that when I was Dan’s age I, too, shouted at the television for Lois to get a little critical distance and notice that Clark was Superman.

I phrased it thus: “Don’t be so stupid.”

Being privy to secrets of one kind or another can be a burdensome thing.

Perhaps Dan, as I once did, nourishes the hope that Lois, too, has a secret. Perhaps she will turn to Clark at some point or another and say, “Hey, Clark. Want to hear something really funny? I’ve known for years you’re Superman. That’s right. I’ve known it all along. But I’ve done the decent thing, the human thing, and kept your secret because you’ve wanted it that way. But here’s the funny part. Here’s the really funny part. I have a secret, too. You see, I’m not Lois Lane. I’m…”

But I go astray.

Attributing to Lois a moral stance, the secret that she has never betrayed Clark’s secret, has the advantage of allowing us to see her in some way other than stupid. In fact, if my hypothesis is correct, Lois did such an outstanding job of keeping the secret and buttressing her knowledge by playing the utter fool that she needs to be designated the very best actor on the show—possibly in history.

Lois not only knew and did not tell; she did not behave in any manner that would have led her co-workers to know she knew. Jimmy, I assume, is just stupid.

Perhaps that’s the point of fantasy and fancy, miracle stories and other culture-bound inspiring work: to enkindle us with questions and statements of what we know to be obvious.

What is obvious to one person is a deep mystery to the next. What can best be done in those situations is to arrange conversations not between those who know it all and those who know nothing… The conversations that need be arranged are between those who know the obvious and those who know the obvious as mysterious. Each will gain by being informed by the other.

I did not understand the fact that the identity issue was a charade until I was older. Not Lois, but Clark, was in a predicament about expressing character issues.

It was, after all, Superman who purchased glasses—a symbol of seeing clearly—he did not need. Superman clothed himself in conventional clothing and hid his functional suit. Superman was the one who wanted to look like less than what he was.

I did not understand this until I had to purchase glasses. Until I purchased them, I not only did not recognize their benefits and virtues, but claimed I did not need them.

Perhaps the refusal to change appearance is vanity. Perhaps dressing in style is a vane conceit. Perhaps switching glasses, or clothing, or hair styles, is to engage in the ebb and flow of appearance.

Perhaps the becoming and changing of reality occurs, as it were, through the vessels of our clothing. Or, perhaps the identity, not the duality, of Clark and Superman is more real than any of the “spectators'” concentration on glasses in one scene and removal in the next. Perhaps consistency of change is more important than identity. Or perhaps not.

That’s the way it is with “perhaps”.

I knew my eyes were bad for some time, but thought I could live without the sheer anguish of glasses; I had been accustomed to wearing glasses to see into the distance, but slowly, ever so slowly, the lenses deteriorated—they didn’t work as well as they once had. The fact of faulty lenses did not bother me; all it meant was that I was becoming accustomed to not seeing as many things, a condition I rationalized as acceptable given some alternatives.

Well, it was acceptable until those other cars on the highway suddenly began appearing in lanes where they had not been moments before.

So I needed new glasses. So what! I would get them. Some day. In the mean time, I’ll just drive a little slower. You’ve wanted me to drive slower for years.

And now I will. So there!

What was most annoying was that I noticed, faster than a speeding bullet, that I could not see things up close.

I could not read as easily as I had so recently been able to do: When I first became aware of it, I was curious to know if the economy was so horribly bad that all books were now being printed in a fuzzy, obviously cheap, ink.

Then I began to notice that the economy was so terribly bad that even books I had possessed for years had retrospectively been affected.

“Why are you holding that book so close to your face?”

I resisted the urge to say the reason was because I was convinced it was a razor.

I thought that perhaps, just perhaps, such a statement would not make my reasonable defense against getting new glasses so reasonable. I do not know who first uttered the word “bifocal”, but I adamantly refused to purchase glasses that would make me look like my grandmother.

Split lenses, indeed! I already was bi-focal. Some things I could see, and some I could not see.

So I ended up getting two pairs of glasses. One pair was simply for seeing (which, as suggested above, I was accustomed to doing); the other, which had a secondary purpose, bore the less obnoxious name “reading glasses”.

I despise the very concept of bifocals, with their smug suggestion of growing old and their self-complacent suggestion of double vision. It suggests indecisiveness, and the one thing I am not is indecisive, I think.

So I made an appointment with the optometrist and explained sadly to Dan, “I can no longer see through these things.” I grew instantly accustomed to the reading glasses. I could see what I was reading without squinting or straining my eyes.

Reading was enjoyable again.

Because my long-distance vision was corrected perfectly with the glasses I had, and would remain so for a solid week after I received my new reading glasses, I chose to have two pairs of glasses.

Consequently, I grew accustomed to switching back and forth between corrective lenses. I grew accustomed, that is, to taking off one identity (one set of circumstances, requirements, and modes of being) and putting on another.

I became, in a phrase, a virtual Superman of the visceral world.

I felt great. I felt like I was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound—if I was standing atop their roofs and had overcome my fear of heights.

Now, if I could only break the habit of whipping off a pair of glasses and staring into my son’s eyes—or an imaginary camera if he is not available—and saying, “I’m Batman.”


G. David Schwartz is the former president of Seedhouse, an online interfaith committee. Schwartz is the author of A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue (1994) and Midrash and Working Out of the Book (2004). He is currently a volunteer at Cincinnati, Ohio’s community center, the J (Mayerson JCC); and Meals On Wheels. His newest book, Shards And Verse (2011) is now in stores, and can be ordered online.
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Cupcake Mistake

A short story by Glen Donaldson


This felt neither odd nor quirky, just wrong. Instinctively, even culturally, ‘sunglasses at night’ wrong. At the distinct risk of laboring the point, a hundred shades of wrong with counter-intuitive thrown in to match. In fact, a degree of wrong on such a scale Glorbert Fletcher’s personal amber alert had had no choice but to go into immediate car alarm mode. And now the most ill-fated and far reaching of consequences were set to follow.

Moments before, unsuspecting Glorbert had been forced to watch, in something approaching mouth-gaping horror, the sight of his fiancée of precisely twenty-six and a half weeks, the love of his life Taliqua Clancy, use her privileged right index finger to separate, in one sweeping, seemingly well-practiced motion, every last butter cream-based molecule of the St Patrick’s Day-green icing from the cupcake she had held poised ready to eat in her hand. Incredibly, for Glorbert, she then inserted the denuded mini sponge into her open mouth and flicked the discarded icing into a foot operated trash bin resting in the far corner of the room.

‘Freakshow’ was the ungracious pronouncement that filled Glorbert’s head with the force of a judge’s gavel smashing down on a wooden sound block. He’d been somehow able to overlook Taliqua’s past series of offbeat indiscretions, those such as serving milk with dinner or fried chicken with waffles and syrup. He’d managed to convince himself to almost-but- not-quite accept her regular purchase of bizarrely apportioned three liter wine bottles. And recently he’d been worn down to such an extent he’d even bowed to her habit of pouring milk into a bowl and adding the cereal last. But this?

A travesty of this magnitude caused the whole delicately poised pack of personal-habit playing cards to come cascading down in spectacular fashion, coming to rest in a scattered heap at the base of his feet. He felt an ancestral chill run down his spine, for he knew what it all meant. The preference for cheese from a squeeze can, the deep fried oreos, and the spam, especially the spam, had all been little red flags trying to gain his attention with an unsavory message he hadn’t been ready to hear. Separating icing from a cake like this meant there would be no cake. Separation yes, but definitely no cake.

He chanced a final look at the dented silver trash bin that now contained the cast-off green icing, before having his gaze come to rest once more upon his once-beloved Taliqua. He regarded her now, for the first time, as a stranger he’d once known. Glorbert’s mind began churning, like the milk-eggs-flour-butter-mix-covered stainless steel blades of the blender he’d used so lovingly to make those very cupcakes not the day before. Words fell out of his mouth like vapor, though he’d intended them to land in Taliqua’s guts like shrapnel.

“I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”

“Do what?” she replied innocently, her expression advising she was unaware of the unfolding
calamity.

“What you just did.”

“Oh that? That’s what those bins have a pedal for, isn’t it?”

This was the trouble treating people like fools, thought Glorbert to himself as he began scanning Taliqua’s face, this time rapidly, from eye to eye, as though she were a magician’s ball-under-which-cup game. You had no way of knowing whether the other person was doing the same thing back to you. How is it possible, Glorbert wondered, to know you are in denial and yet snuggle into the feeling anyway? It was clear to him she had retained her talent for being completely unaware of what was bugging him.

But now, now it was time for him to get serious with Taliqua. Time to descend upon her from the rafters with a full roll call of all her exasperating, maddeningly eccentric ways. Carrying out his own little prenup, pre-decided exit strategy would follow. There was just one thing he had to do before any of that though. He simply had to retrieve that precious abandoned icing from the trash bin. Scooping it out lovingly as though it were some precious, about-to-be memorialized baby placenta, and placing it in the fridge on a china plate next to a plastic wrap covered container of asparagus gave him comfort and made breathing easier. Relationship-destroying idiosyncrasies might be one thing, but to the unbending mind of Glorbert Fletcher, sheer waste was plain unforgivable.


Glen Donaldson’s writing style has been described as “an intriguing combination of Tolkien, Donaldson and Abercrombie”. This is astonishing to him on precisely two counts.

Glen blogs at SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK.

Swamp Thangs

A short story by Susan H. Evans


Blond, thirty-something Cousin Billy tells me, “Sue, we need to rent a canoe and go down the Congaree Swamp.” Trawling through a South Carolina bog with B-movie creeptoids and festering sloughs seems too attractive to miss. I phone my daughter, Laura, that saucy blue-eyed minx, and she is in.

The day of our trip dawns sunny, and soon reaches 75 degrees. Before leaving his Charlotte condo, Billy asks prudently, “Aren’t you all bringing a change of clothes?” I don’t really see the point, but Laura and I tuck extra jeans and tee-shirts in our backpacks.

At Congaree National Park, we stop by the Visitor’s Center to pick up a map. Over the center’s entrance, a small chalkboard reads, “Be aware of submerged logs.” Hmmm. Oh well, who cares about a couple of dinky floating sticks?

At Cedar Creek parking lot, the banana-colored canoe is heavy as a pregnant elephant when we try to get it off the roof of Billy’s car. Under Bannister Bridge, Billy tells me to sit in the canoe middle since I weigh the least. He vaults in next to roost in front while Laura steadies the canoe—bucking like a bronco on Ritalin—from the bank. Then she flops in. I smile. Fraught with danger already, and we have just launched. It takes a gutsy woman like me to venture into the swamplands like this.

We glide peacefully under the forest canopy, with the river as silky as a blue ribbon, paddling past bald cypress and otherworldly water tupelo, their roots exposed like gums in a very pathogenic mouth, anchored in the bowels of the swamp. We row past a few downed trees and floating logs but manage to paddle around them. I love this oozy place.

After an hour of seeing no one, we row to a low-lying area and pull the canoe up on the shore, stretch our legs, and take a couple of pictures. Then we get back in the canoe. This time, Cousin Billy thinks it best for Laura to sit in front with me again in the middle.

Halfway back, Laura—redolent of Lot’s wife that just had to take one last look at Sodom burning—turns and leans sideways, saying “I think we are about to hit a log.” It is an ill current that flows no good. Her weight to the right as we smash into the log does it. Our canoe pitches forward and butts heads with another poorly appointed floating log.

I barely have time to utter, “Here we g-o-o-o-o,” before catapulting over the side of the canoe like a rag doll pitched over Niagara Falls. I eventually stand up, sputtering a gurgling profanity, looking like a cat that has been dropped in a toilet, my hair plastered to one side of my head. The pockets of my denim jacket full of water weigh on me like sacks of ball bearings.

Laura, with all the natural grace of a rhinoceros, half-falls and half jumps out of the canoe, while Billy strategically scrambles into the fen before the craft turns over, and starts a slow descent into the bog. Billy takes charge and tells me that I must get out of the quagmire. I manage to squeak, “How?” He picks me up like I am a Dutchboy knickknack and sits my soggy bottom on a log.

Then Billy tells Laura, “Let’s just get the canoe up.” Laura scrabbles to help, and Billy, with herculean force, heaves it at a 45 degree angle onto the bank.

Meanwhile, I am morphing into an amphibian. Billy looks around and fixes his blue eyes on me turning green on my bole. He resignedly says, “Sue, you need to walk to the shore.” Shivering like a naked Floridian in February Fairbanks, I eye the thin layer of dark chocolate slime over the heavy leaf sludge. Screwing up my last crumbs of courage, I slog to shore, my sneakers filling up with muck as I go, and my throat in a wet pocket of my jacket. I make it to shore and find a rock jutting out of the sand, and soak into it as I wring out my socks, curse the swamp, and wonder why God hates me so.

As Billy puzzles out how we will all get back in the canoe, a flotilla of 20 or so curious gawkers in a tour group slowly move by, plying their oars smoothly in the water. Some faces register sympathy, some barely conceal mirth, but most just look at us sourly. Two hours in the water. Seeing no one. Now they appear.

The plump female ranger eyes our errant water bottle floating downstream, and motions to the bottle, suggesting gaily that we go get it. Billy and I ignore her; both of us would rather even poke her in the eye with a burnt oar than go after that bottle.

Later, Billy, Laura, and I get back to the parking lot. I retrieve my dry clothes from Billy’s Hyundai, and in soggy jeans waddle to the port-o-let. It reeks of abject defeat. I sigh.

Months later, Laura asks quite innocently, “How come we turned over?”

Return from the Land of Olive Pits

A short story by Susan H. Evans


Our flight out of Porto’s TAP, possibly meaning “Try a Pushcart,” airport is scheduled for 6:40 a.m. Christiana, our glib Portuguese cruise director, assures us that only one pilot’s union is on strike and she will alert us about flight cancellations 24 hours in advance.

At 15 minutes to 4:00, on the morning of our flight, I arise from a sleepless night, tangled and strangled in bedclothes, to the sound of Stan’s funereal voice: “Susan. It is time to get up.” Stan shuffles off for breakfast. He returns at 4:00, and we wrestle luggage outside our cabin for the porters. I ask Stan if he inquired about our airport cab, and – not one to ponder the immediate future – he did not. So he bounds back up the steps to ask. I throw on already worn tee shirt, jeans and raincoat. It is dark and drizzling as we clamber over the metal walkway bridging the Douro River to the shore. The ship’s lights dance on the water. A pot-bellied driver waits, his car motor humming. I wearily climb in the back of the cab. A rosary dangles from the cab’s rear-view window and the taxi maneuvers through the wet streets. We arrive at the Porto airport at 4:30. But all the swinging rosaries in Rome won’t help this morning.

The driver swivels around in his seat and in heavily accented English announces, “Twenty euros, por favor.”

Stan, in his own mid-Western accent, explains that the ship is to pay for the ride and tells the cabbie, “Call the ship.” The man can’t understand and jibber-jabbers angrily, thinking we are English-speaking lowlifes. I stay mute in my morning fog. Stan throws a credit card at the man. The card reader promptly refuses it. Stan fishes another credit card out of his wallet, but the result is the same. I have no euros and keep my Visa to myself.

The argument drones on. Stan, a 72-year-old reedy former LAPD cop, darkly threatens to alert the policíal, one of the few Spanish words he knows, except for the phrase, “Drop your weapon and put your hands in the air.” The threat to call the law seems to work because the driver and Stan slam out of the cab.

I superglue myself to the cab’s backseat, afraid that Stan will push the driver’s taximeter too hard and the man will speed away with my valuables in the trunk. My pink and purple earrings and frog matador tee shirt are priceless. To me, anyway.

When I hear the welcome sound of the car trunk click open and the thunk of our suitcases hitting the pavement, I untangle myself out of the cab’s backseat, collect my battered blue suitcase, and scurry through the automatic doors of the airport like a squirrel with its eye on a newly fallen acorn. I’ll let the men sort it out. I have a plane to catch.

Stan catches up with me just before an escalator, and says breathlessly a cruise employee appeared and appeased the cab driver. We settle on metal chairs to wait for our gate to open and the plane to board. Time leaks away like water in a clogged-up sink, and we don’t board. Ten minutes before we are scheduled to fly out of Portugal to Madrid, people around me start rising, shaking their heads, and gathering their belongings. I snare a young man who tells me, “Si, our flight has been cancelled. Pilot’s strike.”

Over at nearby Gate 6, I spy a Senora in Charge. High heels. Swinging high glossy black ponytail. Coat in lime green. Like refugees fleeing bombed-out Berlin circa 1945, we hightail over to Gate 6. The woman crisply tells us, “Collect your luggage and come to the third floor.”

After an interminable wait for suitcases, we race to the third floor, only to find Porto-Bombay, sitting and standing dark-haired people and piled luggage in a long spread out queue. No sign of Lime Coat.

After an hour waiting, I wander off to find a restroom and spot the green-coated senora. I rush up to her and beg, “Will I be able to reach the United States any time today?” Again, a curt reply to bring my bags and follow her. I race off for Stan and the woman walks us over to a counter where a man in his early twenties sits at a computer.

After tapping some keys, he says that the earliest flight out to Madrid is tomorrow morning at 8:10 AM. We protest, and look suitably deranged – Stan, with his wispy white hair saluting the air and Polish face screwed up in a scowl, and me, whiny and pitiful in a salmon raincoat and with frizzing red hair – that the startled young man considers other options to get rid of us. He allows that we COULD go by train to Lisbon’s airport and might be able to fly to Madrid today.

I explain to Stan what the young man says since Stan can only pick up the sound of a speeding train two feet away. Not an option for him. He is antsy to go home to eat his next breakfast at the Outback Steak House and ride his lawn mower. And neither of us is convinced that we won’t have our flight cancelled again in the morning, so we race downstairs to catch the next metro.

We ride the metro for 40 minutes to the long distance train station. Wallpapered with damp people, Stan and I scrunch up in two adjoining train cars. We are to get off at the Campanhã station. Although I am limp as an old rag, hungry, and drowsy, I must stay alert. Someone must. The effervescent Stan nods off, his head buried in the neck of his navy jacket like a turtle, just when the train announcer, over a crackling intercom, intones our stop. At my pantomime request, three young women poke Stan and frantically motion to the door.

The train station is outside through a courtyard. Rain beats a staccato on the breezeway. I open my suitcase and drag out my new lambswool sweater from Barca D’Alva and my Walmart umbrella. Cobblestones crunch under our feet.

Stan and I board the train, bone-tired and swimmy-headed. As we steam south to Portugal’s capital in economy seats, the trains’ green shutters flap in the wind and a watery gray landscape flies by. We disembark to find hundreds of animated teenagers and an expensive looking shops surrounding us. Bewildered, we finally realize that we are not at the airport on our way to a concourse, but stranded at a far distance from where we need to be. It is a terminal condition.

I approach some young Spaniards who say we need to ride Bus 44 to get to Terminal 1. They wave us off in an easterly direction where the bus ostensibly shows up from time to time. I suggest to Stan that we hail a cab. His unshaven face reveals a miserly and wizened money-clutching soul, but he reluctantly agrees. Then he grumbles bitterly like he had been pricked by the devil’s pitchfork when the cabbie announces a whopping fare of 4 euros.

We get new boarding passes at Terminal 1. Stan is in front of me in the security line, grabs his suitcase, and sprints off to find our gate like an ancient stallion on steroids. I lift his boarding pass out of the tub on the conveyor belt and follow the signs to our gate.

Seeing My First Dead Person

A short story by Alan Balter


“Funeral homes,” “funeral parlors” or “funeral chapels”—whatever they’re called, people are dying to get in. Hah!

I was 12 years old at the time, almost 13, in the seventh grade at school. It was April; the last of the dirty snow had melted, and it was getting light enough for the neighborhood kids to come out after dinner. Even better, the softball season was starting, and I was ready to take my position in left field. The first time out there in the spring meant the end of winter and the joy of running free again.

I got to school in the morning and joined a group of my classmates who were standing in a circle talking and waiting for the bell to ring. Someone passed around some Chiclets, little pieces of gum with mint flavor. Vincent Abbinanti was practicing “Rock the Cradle” with his Duncan yoyo, and Frankie Schmidt was spinning a metal top. He could bring it up and make it spin on his hand: To me a very amazing trick.

Lorraine Lucas, who wore lipstick and eye makeup and had a fine rack by the end of sixth grade, stopped cracking her gum for a second and told us that Carmine Bellazinni’s father had passed away.

“Yep,” she said, “my mom told me he ‘expired’ yesterday while he was changing a flat tire on his car. Probably a heart attack.”

“Do you mean he died?” I asked

“Yeah, like deceased,” Lorraine said.

“What’s with the fancy words?” I asked. “Dead is dead, y’know? And it doesn’t matter what you call it.”

“Yeah,” Vincent said, “especially to the person who croaked.”

“Well anyway, some of us should go to the funeral parlor,” Lorraine said. “Carmine is our classmate and friend, so we should go and tell him we’re sorry that his father expired. That’s what you’re supposed to do, y’know? Like, pay your respects to the family of a deceased person.”

At the dinner table that evening I told my parents what had happened. They agreed that going to the funeral chapel would be a nice thing to do.

“You’ll need to take a bath, put some Brylcreem on your hair, and wear clean clothes and your new shoes,” Dad said.

“Well, what am I supposed to do when I get there?” I asked. “I mean, am I allowed to talk, and how long am I supposed to stay? Do I sit down or just stand around with the other kids from school who won’t know what to do either?”

“Walk in quietly with your classmates and look for Carmine and his mother,” Mom said. “When you see them, go up to them, shake their hands, and tell them how sorry you are for their loss. Stay for just a few minutes, and before you leave, you might tell Carmine that if he needs help with anything, like the schoolwork he’s missing, he should ask you.”

The next morning eight of my classmates were wearing their new shoes, too. They would be going with me to visit Carmine at the funeral parlor after school. The rest of the kids took a pass. My guess was that they were planning to pay their respects after Carmine got back to school or maybe send him one of those sympathy cards that tells a person how sorry you are for their loss.

During class, Mrs. Peppin, our teacher, asked if any of us were going to the funeral parlor. When a few of us raised our hands, she said, “It’s nice of you to go; be on your best behavior, and don’t stay long. You might want to tell Carmine we’re all praying for him and his family.”

I’d never spent much time praying, but I thought old “Peppy,” the nickname for our teacher, gave us some good advice. I liked her even though she had buck teeth and put on too much perfume every morning.

When the bell finally rang at three o’clock, we headed out together on the four-block walk to the funeral parlor on Madison Street. For the first three blocks, we were playing around like kids usually do. A few of the guys were teasing Rosita Contreras and pulling her hair. A couple of other girls were giggling and whispering secrets, all the while checking out their reflections in the store windows. The guys were mostly talking about baseball, except for Billy Comforti, who was making fun of Peppy, who couldn’t hear very well and once told him to, “put it on the blackboard,” when he asked for permission to go to the restroom.

As soon as we saw the funeral home, though, everyone got real quiet; I think “mute” is the word for it. And, when we got to the entrance, each of us waited for someone else to open the door and walk in. Finally, Linda Ciccelli took the lead and the rest of us followed. Inside, the lights were dim and some soft organ music was playing. A few people, relatives and friends of Carmine’s family I guessed, were milling around and talking in soft voices. There were bouquets of flowers all over the place giving off a real sweet smell that almost made me sick. A bunch of chairs were arranged in neat rows, even though no one was sitting. A priest was there too, with the black suit and backward collar, talking to Carmine’s mom and some other folks.

Carmine was off to one side looking uncomfortable, kind of stiff I’d say, in a suit and tie. He was standing next to his mom whose eyes were red from crying. I went over and told them how sorry I was for their loss, like I was supposed to do. The rest of my classmates did the same, and that’s when I should have said “Arrivederci” (“goodbye” in the Italian tongue) to Carmine and his mom and gone home. Instead, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the dark wooden coffin with Carmine’s dad all stretched out on his back with his hands folded over his chest. He was decked out in his own suit and tie, and he looked very gray. He was the first dead person I had ever seen, and I didn’t want to look at him too much, but I couldn’t help it.

Eileen Spiegel, Larry Farkus, and I walked over to the coffin, got down on our knees on some soft cushions, and stared at Mr. Bellazinni, who was looking more and more gray with every passing second.

An adult standing behind me, a relative I think, who was fat and smelled of booze, said, “He looks so peaceful, almost like he’s asleep. Surely, he’s with the angels now, in a better place.”

All the time I was thinking that Mr. Bellazinni wasn’t sleeping at all. He was as dead as a brick, and he was never going to wake up from any kind of peaceful slumber, either. Maybe he was with some angels in a better place, but there were a whole lot of better places that I’d rather be, including left field, religious school, a piano lesson, cooped up in the library on a sunny day, or even the dentist’s office when he’s coming at me with his drill and his hand is shaking. Fact is, the whole thing was starting to creep me out, so I gave my place on the cushion to the fat guy who smelled of booze.

Finally, we said goodbye to Carmine and his mom and headed out into the sunlight. A few of us, including me, were scared. Actually, I’d say that all of my classmates were scared, even Vincent Abbinanti who was usually not afraid of anything, but none of us wanted to admit it.

When you’re scared because you’ve just seen your first dead person, you want to get home as soon as you can. So, I walked as fast as I could, even ran some, in order to make sure I made it home before dark. All the time I was thinking that I should have given the whole thing a pass like most of my classmates did. Carmine wouldn’t have cared much if I hadn’t shown up at the funeral chapel to stare at his dead father. Fact is, he probably wouldn’t have missed me at all, and his mom wouldn’t have given it a thought either.

Truth is, I had nightmares for months. In most of them, Mr. Bellazinni and his gray face were chasing me. One time he caught me, and when I looked at his face, it was me. Another time I was back on the soft cushion again, and Mr. Bellazinni sat up in his dark wooden coffin and pointed a skeleton finger at me.

Of course, I’ve been to many funeral parlors since my first visit. I’m always relieved when the coffin is closed, and when it isn’t, I stay in the back, as far away from the gray person as I can.

Vincent Abbinanti and I are still friends after all these years. I meet him for lunch almost every week, and we both remember going to Mr. Bellazinni’s funeral. I told Vincent that if he doesn’t come to my funeral, I won’t go to his. Hah!

Backseat

A short story by Mike Lee


We were on the road again, with Kansas nothing flying by on the narrow
Interstate strip, barreling toward Salina, to take the turnoff south through Oklahoma, and to old homeland Texas.

I sat in the back with my daughter, both of us bitching about the cold. Won full custody of her the month before. Child protective services said it was cool to take this trip and not inform the mother of our plans, reminding me that the court removed her parental rights.

Dorrie, my daughter, returned to her book, wrapping herself tight with the blanket Lia gave her. I pulled my black leather motorcycle jacket together, zipping it up.  I looked out through the window staring at some exposed rock on the side of the road.

I felt loose at every inch, thinking of American mermaids I dated that could have been Dorrie’s mother. Instead, I picked the Irish bottle-stashing drunk who I caught choking the kid. Had mom led out in handcuffs, slapped papers on her while she was in rehab and ground her through the family court machine back in New York.

I hated every minute of it. I may have fallen out of love of my estranged wife, but I did marry her, put up with years of bullshit, and let things slide to apocalyptic lows. But I am a man who causes trouble for himself, and at the moment while staring at flat fields of prairie spotted with exposed glacial stone, I committed the guilty sin of dragging the innocent into my bad decisions.

Lia was driving; her glasses slightly askew while her husband read the book lying on his lap. Lia asked him to change the music on the iPod attached to the cigarette lighter.

The music was some Americana band I had a vague affection for, Wilco, and I recognized the song. Dorrie’s ex-mother liked that song. I liked it better. “I’m Always in Love”—that certainly wasn’t the problem for anyone but me because maybe it was not true. Maybe for one, someone whose heart I continue to beat for.

Could have been Lia. I knew her since she was fifteen, but she is married to Tad, and though she bailed me out of this jam, she is glued to the man. I accepted the help, but this still felt weird relying on girlfriends from 30 years ago.

No, it was someone else. She was before Lia, and although she was not the first girl I kissed, she was the one I fell in love with.  This distinction belonged to that American mermaid dream with green eyes who was Texan with each hand gesture and in the tenor of her voice.

While Heaven loves that driver, the one I wanted behind that wheel was that Texas girl; she may still be around once we arrive in Austin. I’d look her up, but she has a boyfriend she told me she liked in an e-mail she sent when troubles formed like thunderstorms on the horizon.

The backseat where this new family sat was getting slightly warmer. The heater kicked in big time by the turnoff toward Oklahoma. It spared that lucky child, Dorrie, who let the blanket drop while silently reading her book.

I thought to ask the woman I loved to please let me in, but knowing she may say no, I shifted my thoughts back to the road ahead. We were looking at twelve hours through Oklahoma, then across the state line and on to a hotel in Georgetown.

Closed my eyes and leaned back in the seat, slumping against the cold glass. I pushed my hat aside to keep my head warm, and fell asleep.

When I woke up it was getting on sunset. I pulled my cell phone out and took a couple of photos of the draining sunlight on the far western horizon.

The faster Lia drove, gunning it up to make Georgetown, the closer to home and green eyes from teenage years I felt.

Maybe I will look that girl up. Won’t tell anyone.  After we check in, I will tell Lia I need some air. Knowing her, she’ll be tired and crash out while Tad goes on his laptop and plays all-night online bridge while lying in the bed next to his wife. Dorrie will be in her room, probably still with her novel, maybe watching television.

I will go out into the Texas cold, flip open my phone and look for her number. I have it written on scrap folded neatly in my wallet.

I did not call her during the hell-time. I did not want to be a bother.

Fumbled for the number. Could not find it. Frustrated, I sighed and walked to the gas station for another pack of cigarettes.

I sat on the curb, smoking nervously, wondering how I could have lost that
number. Felt like I had let that connection become severed, and for no good reason.

Instead, I made up a poem on the spot, reciting the words I knew I would forget before I went to bed. The girl in my memory would hear it, though, as I lost myself to the cadence of my feelings and lit one smoke after another.

In Austin, I will be with Lia and Tad. Dorrie. Lia’s mom had arrived earlier, with her daughter and son-in-law’s children. I will have no time to find the girl I actually really did love.

Perhaps just being in Austin will be enough. It is possible I will run into her and finally tell this woman face-to-face how I feel, boyfriend or not. I shall even say it in front of him, if need be.

I finally finished reciting my poem, and bid her good night with a sweet, lingering kiss into the winter night.

I slept through until half past dawn. The best, restful sleep I had in years.

So be it.


Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist and photographer based in New York City. His fiction has been published in West Trade ReviewThe Ampersand Review, Paraphilia, The Airgonaut, Sensitive SkinReservoir, The Avenue, and others. His photography is currently being exhibited at Art Thou Gallery in Berkeley, California and as part of a group show at Darkroom Gallery in Essex Junction, Vermont, curated by Bruce Gilden.

Cicadas

A creative essay by Lara Lillibridge


I had not seen my father in several years, and I had no aching desire to change that. When I thought about my father, I felt nothing. He wanted to visit this past summer, and I didn’t know how to say no, for my children’s sake, if nothing else. Dementia was overtaking him, and the minute-hand of the clock was stealing the person I used to know—every day he was a little less the man I remembered. But I still did not want him to come. Whatever he had or had not been to me, it no longer mattered—I was a parent now, no longer in need of parenting.

~

When I was a child in my mother’s house, my brother and I spent our summers in the backyard. The grass was thick and dense beneath my bare feet, and the dark brown dirt always stained the pads of my toes. We carved fingernail x’s into our mosquito bites, in an effort to remove the itch. The cicada buzz reverberated in my ears, the tinny radio-static soundtrack of summer. I found their discarded robot/alien shells as clinging detritus on the tire-tread bark of the maple tree. The exoskeletons were the color of toast, slightly translucent. It took me a long time to realize the shells were empty and could not bite, and when I mustered the courage to touch them, they crackled into broken shards beneath my fingers.

~

I had spent a year plotting my father’s death when I was fourteen—I was going to push him down the brown carpeted stairs of his condo, and then inject alcohol into his veins and make it look like an accident. He was a doctor—syringes weren’t hard to come by, and I was overly confident in my ability to push a needle through someone else’s skin. In the end, I didn’t have hands that would push my father down the stairs, no matter how much my rage instructed them to. My hands were useless wounded birds controlled by my heart, which still yearned for a Daddy who loved me.

~

The years of unrequited love drained me of all emotion towards my father. I haven’t even been able to muster up anger in longer than I can remember. I have been full-grown for quite some time now. It is too late for him to requite my golden-retriever- like love, to fulfill all those hastily-made promises, or take me to the father/daughter dinner dance. Whatever I hadn’t gotten from him I no longer wanted. But his impending visit made me think I should try one more time, at least to appease everyone else. The night before he came into town, I thought about his attachment disorder diagnosis. Was it fair to shut him off if he was inherently incapable of feeling emotion? Hadn’t he tried the best he was able, small though that had been? He sent me stuffed animals each Christmas, weird ones, granted, like a three-foot- long snake made out of neckties or a weasel instead of the husky I had asked for, but he made time to go to a toy store and bought me something each year. He wrapped them up and wrote out a name tag with his favorite black pen. His handwriting was more familiar than his face. My father was always excited to see me, scooping me up in a tight bear hug and crushing my child-soft cheek against his black-and- red plaid Woolrich jacket.

~

He didn’t think it mattered that I only saw him twice a year as a child, and I have learned how quickly time passes when you are an adult compared to the never-ending feel of a child’s summer and the eternity of fifteen minutes when I rubbed the toes of my shoes in the brown-gray dirt and tried to guess how much time had passed. I decided to attempt to loosen my shell. Perhaps I could learn to see him through adult eyes. Maybe his attachment disorder really did explain all of his past failings, if only I would stop judging him so harshly. I knew we could not make up for the lost years, but perhaps it was not too late to develop some affection for the person he had become. Maybe a relationship could be had on new terms.

~

My father and I sat across the table from each other from each other and said nothing, like strangers at a train station. I looked at his eighty-year old hands, ropy with thick blue veins and corroded with deep lines. His fingernails were thick and clean and longer than mine. I felt nothing—not sympathy for an old, tired man, not remorse for all he had never been. I was no longer a daughter-abyss needing to be filled. We sat in silence and he looked into the distance blankly. I knew I was supposed to say something, but I had nothing left to say. My father just stared out towards my garden with unfocused eyes. When I tried to make small talk, he responded with words like, “oh,” words like air, words like emptiness. The cicada had flown, and the empty hard shell I had tried so hard to penetrate as a child was all that remained of my father.

~

My father peed on the toilet seat and I sat in it. My children asked why Grandpa got mashed potatoes all over the table when he ate. He tried to assemble a simple wooden toy with my seven-year- old and glued everything together backwards. My father, formerly an airplane pilot, boat captain and pediatrician, could no longer distinguish between his left and right hands, could not translate a map, could not follow a conversation to completion.

~

He asked to have a “heart-to- heart” with me before he left. I tried my best to avoid it. There was nothing he could say that would mean anything to me, and I hoped he didn’t expect reassurance of his parenting or proclamations of my love and appreciation. I just didn’t have it in me to pretend any longer. He stood up from the table where we were all sitting and asked to speak with me, and I could not come up with any more reasons not to. My father and I sat upstairs on my balcony, away from his wife and my family.

I could still see a tinge of brown in my father’s gray hair. His face was foreign to me. He had shaved off his beard when I was twenty, and had looked like a stranger ever since. Even though I had known him clean-shaven for more years than bearded. I always saw him through the eyes of a child, and his face was no longer the face of my childhood. I wondered if his front tooth had always been longer that it’s mate. I noticed how the extra weight he put on over the years filled in his wrinkles. He stared directly into my face, as he always had. I did not see him blink once. I could not sustain that level of eye contact, and looked at his hands instead.

~

My father told me about his dementia, his Parkinson’s Disease, and his relationship with his wife. He was sorry he was moving closer to her children than to me or my brother. He was afraid I felt spurned. He told me that he knew he couldn’t function like he used to, couldn’t carry on conversations or walk with his old, easy gait. His cicada words bounced off my daughter shell. I just wanted him to go home. I stared at his folded hands and made reassuring, meaningless noises, as was expected of a good daughter. But I was no longer a good daughter.

My father’s hands curled loosely on his lap, so I could not see his talon-like nails. The metacarpals rose in sharp ridges above the wrinkled red skin, his veins were bluer than his eyes. The skin on the backs of his hands was made of some material different from mine, something thinner and less opaque, like the skin of lips, that would chap and tear easily. The eighty years of his life didn’t show in his face, but were betrayed by those red, fragile hands. My body remembered his hands teaching me to tie off the boat at the dock, sew a patch on my jacket. My hands balled up so I would not reach out to stroke his fragile skin. I made an excuse to check on the children, and he followed me mutely down the stairs.


Lara Lillibridge is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. In March of 2016 she was a top 5 finalist for DisQuiet’s literary prize in Creative Nonfiction, judged by Phillip Graham. She has had essays published in Pure Slush (Vol. 11), Vandalia, and Polychrome Ink; on the web at Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, Airplane Reading, Thirteen Ways to Tell a Story, Weirderary, and Brain, Child Magazine‘s Brain, Mother blog. Some of her recent essays have been published in Hippocampus and Luna Luna. You can view some of her work at her website, www.LaraLillibridge.com, catch up with her blog at the Huffington Post, and follow her on Twitter @only_mama.

130 MPH

A flash piece by Mitchell Grabois


1.

Mr. Schenectady and his God were sitting in the ruined schoolhouse, the one Mr. S. lives in, the one with the roof falling in, next to the barn with the roof entirely gone, next to the overgrown grave of the farmer who plowed with horses until he was well into his eighties, next to a proud, 500-foot-tall American turbine, its blades spinning slowly.

2.

Historically, God had compassion for whores and lepers (reasoned Reverend Anne, a 60-year-old minister who’d retired from her first career as an English teacher) so He would also have compassion for the much maligned Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, even though Christie was a blowhard, a braggart and a bully, mired in political scandal, some involving political revenge. They know about revenge in New Jersey. It was where Tony Soprano, the Mafia boss, lived. Soprano and Christie were both big fat men who demanded respect and sneered a lot. They would have enjoyed a cigar together and a single malt whiskey neat. Reverend Anne thought Christie deserved some compassion to temper the contempt that the general public felt for him. She began to study him, looking in the nooks and crannies of his life, looking in the many folds of his skin, for praiseworthy qualities, but then she realized the obvious: that God’s love was unconditional, and she stopped looking.

3.

The turbine contemplates violence (because that’s what Americans do), angelic violence, in which wings beat like a goose wings beating a child near to death, traumatizing him for life, making him unable to even see a bird without nearly shitting his pants well into adulthood. An American Child who hadn’t even been to war yet. But wars were being prepared for him, to complete the damage begun in his childhood.

4.

I think I need some of Anne’s unconditional acceptance. I think my dentist does too. I told her (my dentist) that if she didn’t stop stalking me, I’d call the cops and have her arrested.

She looked hurt. We live together, she said. How can I be stalking you?

5.

The American Child’s first ex-wife filled his house with parakeets before she left him, her final Fuck You.

6.

Despite the apparent rationality of her question, I had her by the short hairs. Since she raped me, when I was in her dental chair, my first appointment, flying on nitrous oxide, she gets edgy if I mention cops, even if it’s something as innocent as telling her about the sinister black police cars new to our city’s department. They look like Batmobiles, the officers avengers of the night behind smoked glass.

7.

Mr. Schenectady wears a red flannel shirt. His God wears plaid pajamas, the same pajamas he wears day and night. He’s Mr. Schenectady’s God, so he can do whatever he wants. Mr. Schenectady brings him glasses of Welch’s Grape Juice without ice. When he wants more, God snaps his fingers.

8.

We get up to 130 mph. We terrify ourselves. Then we stop at the junkyard to study cars, like philosophers studying Life, with serious expressions, waiting for mysteries to be unveiled. We see ourselves in the junkers. Bobby always sees himself as a Studebaker. He has no imagination. He once lived next to a farmer who bought a new Studebaker every year and put last year’s model into his giant, unused barn until finally there were at least fifty Studebakers. The farmer’s long-estranged son, when he finally showed up, hardly remembering the place, opened the creaky barn doors and found the four bearded Studebaker brothers, looking a lot like the mentholated-cough-drop Smith Brothers, singing celestial hymns, until they realized that they were being observed for the first time in fifty years, and the oldest was so amazed, he involuntarily farted.

9.

My dentist, my girlfriend, came home and threw off her clothes, put on a Japanese kimono that emphasized her thinness. She had the most delicate wrists I’d ever seen on a dentist, on any woman. I could snap them like toothpicks if I wanted, but why would I? Every night she filled me with nitrous until I floated on a blue cloud, into her bed, into her body.

Don’t be cruel, honey, she begged me in the Southern accent she’d almost lost. Don’t talk about calling the police on me. I love you so much, despite your bad enamel and your periodontal disease, your fear of dentists and your phobia about dental treatment, and your resentment of me.

10.

Mr. Schenectady hates drinking anything without ice. He once washed up in St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, after a significant hurricane, and there was no ice for over four months. Mr. Schenectady suffered greatly, especially as he had shacked up with a hot Caribe momma who boiled his blood twice daily, so he really needed the ice. He was not an air-cooled kind of guy. So there they were, Mr. S and his God, God drinking grape juice sans ice and Mr. S. drinking water from a WWII canteen. Time passed, and they were comfortable sitting together, not even talking.

11.

How long did it take you to get through dental school, I asked her, handing her another glass of vodka with very little tonic in it. 

I don’t know, she said. I don’t remember, but it was a long road filled with pain. The pain wasn’t mine, but that didn’t make it any easier.


Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over a thousand of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes.  His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, and in print. To see more of his work, google “Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois”. He lives in Denver.

Oh, Nereus

A short story by Steve Carr


The sea is my world, and it stretches on forever, on and on in the days since the sinking of my yacht, The Mercy. This world has no foothold, only islands and coasts seen on the horizon, never reached, reefs and volcanoes sprouting up like exotic flowers and simmering cauldrons in the middle of the jade-green and turquoise waters. The sea provides a mattress, a deathbed of rocking waves that lull me into sleep on this raft where I spend my days and nights; all the hours melding into years. All the years lost.

How many years since the day The Mercy went down in this watery graveyard, this salty, liquid earth? It’s like counting the pinpoints of light in the Milky Way. The days pass like that, twinklings in a distance, miscounted. I can lie on the boards and with the rising sun and its setting, watching the morning and evening skies shift, creating patterns like rotating colored glass in a kaleidoscope. I can watch the moon appear and disappear like a whale’s eye in the ocean of space.

At the bottom of the sea, The Mercy may rest in some crevice, some fissure where striped fish, gray eels and the ink-spitting octopus swim in the darkness. Maybe The Mercy is broken in half, like the Titanic, bow and stern separated, its contents – luggage, furniture, skeletons – scattered and decomposing in the depths or preserved in the coldness. Maybe the First Mate, Pete, stares out at the sharks and barracuda, watching from inside The Mercy. He’s trapped forever in the cabin as he peers with lifeless eyes through the porthole, the porthole where I last saw his has handsome face, his blue eyes full of sorrow. I fell past him, past that porthole, into the sea, tossed from the sinking yacht into the storm-driven waves.

~

The squall came upon us so quickly, so unexpectedly, that before The Mercy went down, Andrea didn’t have time to tie her daughter’s shows, Maximilian and Jan couldn’t tally their gin rummy score, Lucy was unable to fasten the top hook of her Christian Dior gown. Pete couldn’t get the door to his cabin open. I banged on his door. I rammed it with my shoulder.

“Pete, I need you,” I called in to him, then ran up to the deck, to the starboard side to get an ax. I wondered as I fell past his porthole if he thought I’d jumped – that I had abandoned him and the others. He must have known that The Mercy would be swallowed into the sea.

Of the others, including the effeminate Ray and his macho partner Mack, their room full of leather and feathers, of Suzanne who drank too much and looked older than her twenty years, of Sam the cook and the other servants; I don’t know they spent their final moments.

On the way to get the ax to rescue Pete, who could rescue all of us, who knew the yacht better than me, I saw Andrea as I passed her cabin. She was kneeling before her daughter, Tracy, and trying to tie Tracy’s running shoes while Tracy wailed against the horrors of the creaking ship, the pounding of the waves against every outside surface.

“It’ll be alright,” I yelled to Andrea, my shout barely heard above the stormy din.

I climbed the stairs and past the dining room and saw Jan, laughing, his Swedish voice booming “you didn’t win. I won.” Maximilian, much older than his young blond lover, was holding up the pad with the score and laughing also. They didn’t see me as I passed.

Neither did my teenage daughter, Lucy, who stood in front of the wall mirror in the living room, her feet squarely planted on the carpeted floor as the yacht tossed about, her hands behind her neck trying to fasten the top of her gown, a birthday present from me. She looked so much like her mother, the only woman I had ever slept with, when I was twenty, and before I knew what my true sexual tastes were.

The wave that washed across the yacht, that shattered port side windows and portholes, that swept me over the starboard side, seemed like a hand that held me in chilling fingers and emptied me from its palm into the sea. In that moment, beneath the water, I saw a school of fish blithely swimming on like a choreographed marching unit, and it seemed as if there were no storm at all. When I surfaced, I turned every direction, my eyes slapped with the stinging salt of the ocean as I searched for The Mercy. I was submerged again by the crush of the hand that had guided my watery fate, and beneath the water I saw the sinking yacht, The Mercy, stern-first going down into the darkness, bubbles rising from it like giant jellyfish racing to the surface.

I didn’t think at that moment about how such things happen, or why. I didn’t ponder the question of ballast or buoyancy, of the incredible sinking speed, the failure of the yacht to withstand the squall. I thought of Pete, waiting nude in his cabin for me before the squall hit, his door jammed as the boat was suddenly smacked with a monstrous wave, his voice sounding calm, yet strained, as he beat against the door before I ran to get the ax, before I was plummeted into the drifting eternity.

~

And now I try to count the days, the months, the years, and all are lost to me. Just as the memories fade and become distorted, so had time. The hypnotic sparkle of sunlight on sea, the mesmerizing quality of a shark’s fin slicing the water’s surface, the timelessness of playful dolphins; there things alter my perceptions and minutes become hours that become a day. I was thirty-seven when The Mercy sank, and was fit and handsome then, free of the stress of a less-wealthier life. I know by the wrinkles in my face, the whiteness in my hair, the aching in my muscles, that I have entered old age like a man who awakes from a coma and finds his past can never be regained once lost.

Even Nereus can’t stall the ravages of time that will someday be my salvation, my death. In his questioning eyes I see him pondering the growing slowness of my movements, of my weakening limbs as I swim with him beneath shooting stars.

“I’m getting old,” I say to him. “It happens to men, all men.”

He replies in a sing-song vocalization, like a quartet singing in a foreign language, tenor and soprano all at once, and though I have taught him some of my language, I can’t understand his. He reaches out and touches my hair, holds the white strands between his strong, tanned fingers and looks at me with alarm and misunderstanding.

This raft I’m on, this twelve-by-twelve board topped with a canvas tent and a single mast with a single sail, has taken me, I think, around the world, past continents and island chains. I’ve floated and sailed out where the horizon is another man’s piece of poetry. From miles off I’ve seen beaches and cities, ships and harbors. I am trapped on this cell as Nereus’ man. He doesn’t understand the concept of captive, or prisoner, or even possession, as he pulls me with a rope attached to the raft – a rope he holds in his strong white teeth as he swims the seas.

At night he climbs aboard the raft and crawls into the tent and holds me in his wet muscles. He kisses with salty lips, and we make love as he sings, and his songs attract the whales who swim with us as night as I teach Nereus over and over the ways in which men make love.

Nereus knows these things: how to bring food, fish, kelp and canned goods from sunken ships and stolen from ship’s stores; to replace my tent and sail and bedding when they are ragged, by going into harbors and stealing such things from small boats; how to pull me to safety during storms. All other things I must re-teach him every day, every night. He knows that I am changing, growing older, but I don’t think he remembers what I once was, how differently I made love at thirty-seven.

Nereus doesn’t age.

“I want to go home,” I tell him every day.

Nereus laughs and splashes in the water and pulls the rope, drawing the raft so that I go first in one direction, then another, and his message becomes clear: I am home.

“Take me there,” I tell him when we see a beach, a city, a ship. He tilts his head to one side and with grave eyes sings me what I’ve taken to be a warning, a musical note of caution, just as he does when we see a shark or we see an oncoming storm.

Occasionally he brings me things: a shoe, a wooden bowl, a piece of pretty coral. He lays these items at my feet and looks up at me with adoring eyes and rolls onto his stomach and my thank you is to take him, to make him sing, to bring the whales.

From sunken ships and harbor boats he has brought me books and clothes, and hundreds of small items, kitchen utensils and toys, and though there is not room on the raft for all these things, I have thanked him each time, thanked him because I hoped some day he would bring me a blank book, a diary and a pen, which now he’s done.

~

Today the sea is calm and the sun is high above the canvas tarp I wile away this endlessness of moments by recounting what till now has occurred, how my life ceased when The Mercy sank, though I am alive and fed and clothed, provided shelter and safety from the storms, and have a lover who is insatiable and infinite in his lovemaking, and amazing and breathtaking in his beauty. How many times have I cursed this all, and endless times jumped into the sea to end it, only to be pulled back onto the raft by Nereus.

Nereus has brought me a long piece of rope, a gift, laying at my feet and offering himself to me. While inside him, while he sings to the whales who sing to him, I think about the sea, the maddening sea, about getting home at any cost.

In the night the sea is as still as the day and I count the stars reflected in the black of the waters. The half-moon provides candlelight shadows as Nereus and I make love on the boards outside the tent, with the warm breeze drying him, drying his scales that cover his flipper, the whales singing in response to Nereus who seems particularly happy. Afterward we sit in the starlight as he preens his flipper. I comb his sea-green hair and decorate his long locks with starfish and pearls. I feed him seahorses, his favorite, while he strokes my weathered face.

He falls asleep in my arms and when the rhythm of his breath and the tenor notes of his sleep-sighs assures me that I won’t awaken him, I take his gift, the rope, and tie his arms and hands. I tie them so securely that even I couldn’t undo the knots without a knife. I fear that his adoring eyes, his pained song will stir me to change my mind.

When dawn comes, the sea sprinkled with shimmering sunlight, red and pink, I awake to the singing alarm of Nereus struggling with the rope. His eyes implore me, searching my face for answers. Maybe for a moment he thinks it is a game, because he smiles. But when I don’t smile back his alarm increases.

“I’m so sorry, Nereus,” I say, “but you don’t understand. I have to go home.”

Nereus looks about the sea.

“No, Nereus. This isn’t my home.”

I put up the sail and let the winds push the raft, and we float, sail on, and the day grows hot and Nereus becomes quiet. The following whales fall behind, and a school of dolphin who had accompanied us in the night, are gone from sight. I dip my hands into the sea and pour water to his lips and let him drink from my hands.

We float, sail, and I dream of home. I think about the way it would feel to walk up a tree-lined street, to feel the earth beneath me, to walk barefoot in the soil, to see a mountain, solid and unmoving. I think of how I’d smell the flowers and look up at birds other than seagulls.

In late afternoon I fall asleep, made drowsy by the breeze and warmth. I awake a while later to the sound of thrashing in the water. Nereus has rolled himself off the raft and is caught on the edge of the raft by the rope I have tied him with. Several sharks are circling around him, closing in. Nereus is singing, his sing-song voice rising out of the water like children playing flutes. I reach into the water to grab him, to pull him aboard. He looks at me, his eyes full of loathing, and he kicks at my hands with his flipper. His body breaks free from the raft – the raft he placed me on when he found me as The Mercy sank.

The sharks devour him.

Tonight I sail on a satin sea, and I have no idea where I am, but I suspect because of weather and stars it’s somewhere in the Pacific, maybe near Hawaii. If I should die on this raft in the seeming endlessness of ocean, then it will be a just and fair retribution for the death of Nereus. If I awake in the morning, or any morning, or any hour, and spot land and am saved, I’ll tell my saviors that I grew old and alone on a deserted island since the sinking of The Mercy.

The End


Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had short stories published in Double Feature, Tigershark Magazine, The Wagon Magazine, CultureCult Magazine, Fictive Dream, Ricky’s Back Yard, Sick Lit Magazine, Literally Stories, Viewfinder, and The Spotty Mirror, as well as in the Dystopia/Utopia anthology by Flame Tree Publishing, the 100 Voices volume II anthology by Centum Press, the “Waiting for a Kiss” by Fantasia Divinity Magazine anthology, and the Neighbors anthology by Zimbell House Publishing, among others. His stories are scheduled for publication in NoiseMedium, Door is a Jar, Visitant Literary Journal, Panorama, and Bento Box, as well as in the “Winter’s Grasp” anthology by Fantasia Divinity Magazine, to name a few. His plays have been produced in several U.S. states including Arizona, Missouri and Ohio. He is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee.

“Bill O’Reilly Officially Endorses Sanders, Vows to Emigrate If Sanders Elected”

A satirical article by James Brooks


Taking several of his fellow commentators by shock, noted conservative media figure Bill O’Reilly has formally declared his support for Vermont senator Bernie Sanders by promising on a live January 14th television broadcast that if Sanders is elected to become the President of the United States in 2016, he will leave the country for the Republic of Ireland.

“I’m fleeing,” said O’Reilly on air. “If Bernie Sanders gets elected president, I’m fleeing,” citing the candidate’s progressive tax policy as the main reason for his feelings. When reached for comment, he declined to elaborate on why he chose to go so far as to offer his own expatriation as a reward for the American people electing Sanders, simply repeating thoughts he vocalized on his  television broadcast: “I’m not going to pay 90 percent of my income to that guy.”

The announcement came as a surprise to many on the right wing, who have considered O’Reilly an eminent figure in the field of American conservatism throughout his career. Many are left questioning his motives for suddenly choosing to incentivize voters to elect the self-described ‘democratic socialist’ Sanders in the 2016 election cycle.

“I just don’t get it,” remarked fellow conservative commentator Sean Hannity, regarding O’Reilly’s sudden, unexpected support for senator Sanders, whom both men have previously harshly criticized. “At first I thought it was a joke, but… when someone like him makes a statement that strong, there’s no way he’d back down.”

As of press time, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service has not released any information on whether or not they have already been contacted by O’Reilly, nor has O’Reilly released any update on the status of his visa application.

Regardless of the confusion surrounding this development on the trail, this news was welcomed enthusiastically by many in the Sanders campaign. Kelly Moran, an aide for Sanders, said, “as a person of Irish ancestry myself, I’m glad to see that Bill has not only had a change of heart on Bernie, but chose to invoke our shared ethnic background to celebrate it!”


James Brooks is an American musician and student currently living in Montreal, Canada.