Nite-Writer's International Literary Arts Journal

Summer Memory

Autumn Koerbel - Pittsburgh, Pa. 

 

For as long as I can remember, I spent every summer day at a city of Pittsburgh public pool. I took swimming lessons and eventually joined various swim teams. I loved the pool, and swimming was my life. My friends and I were “pool rats” as the kids who were at the pool every day, rain or shine, came to be known.

We idolized the lifeguards who not only looked after us more than our babysitters did, but were also our friends. Every year, we would count how long we had until the summer we could become lifeguards.

That time came when I finally turned sixteen. I could hardly wait to take the test, and when I passed, it was a dream come true. I couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid to be at the pool all day, doing the things I had done my whole life for free.

I continued to work for the City of Pittsburgh for the next several summers, handling small problems like occasional neighborhood fights, retrieving kids who swam out a little too far and removing glass from the feet of a crying child.

For the most part, there were no real problems. I spent most of my time conversing with patrons and playing “fox” and “Marco Polo” with kids on my time off. These were just some of the reasons that made my job so enjoyable and why I didn’t mind going to work. However, nothing could prepare me for that tragic day that would come three years later, and would haunt me for the rest of my life.

One afternoon early in 1997, I was sitting by the front entrance to Beechwood swimming pool when two kids ran down the steps, screaming that a man was lying in his yard, not breathing.

I looked to the head guard, who was in the shallow end chair, for some direction on what I should do. She pointed to the top of the steps and motioned for me to go. Faced with my first real emergency, I raced up the steps. Steve, a first-year guard, followed. I did not want to go. I was frightened that I wouldn’t remember what to do, and since this was a real emergency I knew I had no room for mistakes. I was also furious that the head guard, who was supposed to take control in the real crises, just sat in her chair and sent an inexperienced guard and me to the scene.

The children showed us where the old man was. I arrived at the scene, a block down the street from the pool, to find an old man lying on the grass and a running lawnmower moving down hill by itself. The man’s wife ran towards me, screaming for me to help him. We dashed over to the man and knelt down on either side of him. His body was blotching purple. We removed his glasses and found his eyes rolled back into his head. I wanted to tell his wife to turn off the lawnmower because it was driving me crazy and I couldn’t think, but she was too hysterical to understand. I felt like I was in a Stephen King movie.

I was never so scared in my life. A man’s life was in my hands. Neighbors began to gather. Someone told me that 911 had already been called. Steve and I assumed the position in order to begin performing CPR. Steve started off, and we began two-person CPR. He pumped, and I gave breath. I began to feel more comfortable as the process became more routine. I thought that we would continue working on the man until paramedics took over, and Steve and I might be recognized as heroes, for helping out. I was wrong.

We continued to work on the man for what seemed like forever, yet the medics were nowhere in sight, and I began to worry again. The man still didn’t respond. We were breathing for him. He was motionless except for our occasional repositioning of his limp and lifeless head. Did the medics think a cat was stuck in a tree or something? This was serious, there was no time to delay. Someone ran toward the house.

“This man’s gonna die,” I thought. “I can’t do this much longer. This shouldn’t have been my responsibility. I was only supposed to be watching over the pool, not the whole neighborhood. I hate the Good Samaritans Law, or whatever it is. I hate everybody at the pool that didn’t come to help me. “I knew the other guards were scared too, but someone had to do something to help the man, and they had been life guarding far longer than I had. Finally, a fire truck arrived and the firemen jumped off and told Steve and I that they would take over.

I stood back and watched as the firemen continued CPR, but still no paramedics appeared. Time had been warped, so it is hard to say how long it actually was before they did arrive. Also, I wondered why it was taking the man so long to respond. He lay there, unconscious and not breathing on his own. He was turning more and more purple. Eventually, the paramedics showed up and took over the firemen’s positions. They began to shock the man repeatedly. His body jolted, but he still did not wake up. Then they injected something into his arms. Blood ran onto the grass. I stood back in disbelief at what I was seeing. “Jesus, come on. What’s the problem? He is supposed to wake now, and everything will be ok, and he will go to the hospital and get better, and everyone will clap or something like that,” I thought.

I felt a fireman’s comforting hand on my shoulder. I looked up at him, and he shook his head, the lowered it. I wondered what was wrong. He patted my back and said, “He’s not going to make it.”

“What?” I exclaimed. Why was he saying this? What did he mean? Steve and I worked on him. The firemen worked on him. Even the paramedics worked on him. He had to be ok. It was the only thing I expect of him. How could he let me down? Why couldn’t I save him?

Questions began to run through my head, but I had no answer for any of them. I looked to Steve for an answer, but he had already broken down and begun to cry. Steve was a guy. They weren’t supposed to cry. If he couldn’t be strong, how could I? I couldn’t. It was over. I began to cry as well. People attempted to comfort me, saying things like, “You did the best you could,” and “he was old anyway.” Shut up, I wanted to tell them. Don’t talk to me. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You were just standing there. You didn’t try to help.

I walked right by everyone, towards the pool, not making eye contact. I didn’t want them to see what I had done, and how I couldn’t save the man’s life. I walked into the pool where I was still on duty and went right for the guard’s room to find my belongings. As I walked past the pool, people asked what had happened. I didn’t answer, hoping that they would just know by looking at my grass-stained knees and red eyes that I had tried.

I left the pool, trying to suppress my sobs. I called my mom on my cell phone, but she wasn’t home. I called a friend, but there was no answer. I began to walk. I left the pool and headed down the street. I would have to pass the scene one last time. I did not look, but I could hear the crowd talking and sounds of vehicles leaving. The people were probably talking about me, saying what a bad job I had done. I crossed the street to be as far away as I could, wanting to forget the whole episode.

I walked past the subway tracks at the end of the street and thought about stopping at my friend Brenton and Lackey’s house. I wasn’t close with them, but I had to tell someone what happened. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. I opened the door and yelled in, and finally they responded. They came down the stairs and looked at me and knew something was wrong. I told them that an old man had just died even though I had been trying to save him. I started to cry again. They tried to comfort me, but I pretended that I was ok. I finally got a hold of my mom, and she picked me up at the end of the street.

My aquatics director and head guard called me the next day to see if I was ok, and I received two thank you letters in the mail, weeks later, from the Mayor of the city of Pittsburgh and the head of the Pool Division. The letters commended me on my “exceptional performance” but they felt more like insults. I hadn’t saved anyone. I wasn’t a hero.

Later that week, neighbors came by the pool and thanked me for my efforts, but I felt worse every time they did. This past summer, a lady came up to me and said that “so and so” had moved to New York with her daughter after her husband’s death. I had never known his name because it would have been too real. Sometimes I’d like to think that it was all a dream. I asked now out of curiosity, and she said his name was John.

That’s all I know and probably ever will know about him. The lady even tried to justify his passing as they all did, by saying that he was too old and shouldn’t have been mowing the lawn on such a hot day. I smiled as I always did and said nothing. I guess it’s better that way sometimes.

I still lifeguard every summer, but I have found myself hesitating when taking the required CPR exam before the start of the season. We must perform CPR on a dummy to prove that we are skilled to do so in a real emergency. My mind goes blank and my palms start to dampen every time. Even though it is only a dummy, I still wonder if I can handle the result of my actions. I try to block that day from my memory but it occasionally resurfaces, causing me to relive the event in a morbid flashback, and try to figure out what I did wrong.

 

 

 

Disgraceful Humans

Barberelli -

 

After his roommate brutally raped me, I grabbed my suppressed P226, shot him in the face then suddenly passed out.

When I awoke, I realized two days had past. My Stoli must have been drugged. I was very sore. It felt like someone banged crowbars in between my thighs. I must have been violated again for hours after I was out. I recall waking up for only a short moment, barely conscious, seeing a shadow of a person lurking in the dark doorway.

In his apartment and barely walking, I crawled towards the bathroom to refresh my face with a splash of cold water, believe me, I would have loved to drench myself in the shower to help wash away the dirty feelings, but I was too exhausted to stand. When suddenly, I stopped. The guy I shot was lying in the tub bloody, nude, and fully disassembled. His roommate was kneeling next to the tub with a reciprocating saw and up to his arms in blood and slivers of bone. He asked me to find the meat grinder. He knew my career had big plans in the near future this was the last thing I needed on my life’s resume.

The laws don’t protect anyone who uses self-defense anymore. Hell, if you shoot a burglar, you go to jail. The government was corrupt and backwards and I was the only sane thing in everyone’s eyes running for office… when in actuality, I was a stranger…

When I was 12, I murdered my Step-Father for incest and claimed it as a hunting accident. Hung my Mother in the garage for shame. She was a nasty cunt who knew he had raped me multiple times but said nothing. I was glad she was dead, and so was her memory. My real Father died in a car wreck. He was a NASCAR crew chief and a great guy. He taught me to stand on my own and to live life humbly. Two things I pride myself on and everyone I wanted in life I would have to fight for. Although, nobody’s perfect.

The only sanity left in my world was my best friend and only companion Sparky; an adorable and loving miniature schnauzer. He was not only always there for me, but also great at doing tricks.

Unfortunately, the next day, while living in this upper middle class neighborhood filed with impersonally plastic people, he was hit and left to rot by my neighbor’s car. I could barely breathe and could no longer feel. The only aspect of love I ever felt existed in that dog. He was the only bright light left in my heart which was being suffocated by agony and doom. I refused to let go so I decided to eat Sparky.

Chewing the last bite of my dog’s body was like a mouthful of branches intertwined with beef jerky. I noticed the ghost of my dog before me, his eyes glazed over, mostly white just like that extra eyelid of a cat just being put to sleep. I felt better that he would be with me, always. The asshole neighbor wasn’t so lucky. He had a most unfortunate accident with a wood chipper. Ha, ha. Fargo. Hate that movie.

I’ve lost all compassion, living in a world surrounded by disgraceful humans, and wondering why I’ve let myself survive thus far. Why can’t I just give up and kill myself like that average Joe? Being victimized over and over… before I can even comprehend the tragedy, another one begins; therefore I never get to heal. It’s never-ending. I feel like I’m living in an illusion, as if nothing is real. Maybe I’m actually looking into a drive-in movie screen. If I could just crash my car into a brick wall, I would discover the truth. I’ve become numb and disconnected to the world around me which is turning me into the monster I despise. My past is a continuously concealed mess…

I’ve poisoned my former boss. God rest his soul - spoken with obvious sarcasm. Now he can get his own damn coffee and the devil can rub his feet! Also, he should have kept his cock off my keyboard!

Four months ago the News Channels reported I had a miscarriage. I lied. I killed it. All my life I’ve always lived for everyone else. Now it’s my turn. I don’t need anything getting in the way of my career. A little tug, squeeze, and snap did the trick to terminate my pregnancy. I left her in a dumpster behind Planned Parenthood; one less elementary school Girl Scout being brainwashed into prostitution. She simply lost the unlucky lottery. Besides, I really don’t think the current President wants to explain anything to his First Lady.

Each year I humbly offer an eager child a ride home from the school district. When in actuality I turn them over to the government to be involved in their secret sex slave program. In exchange I get a break on my taxes. Well, where the heck did you think all those hundreds of thousands of missing children in the United States go in that naïve and easily manipulated brain of yours?

With a demented circus hiding under the thick carpeting of my past, I appeared squeaky clean. All my secret life events were mishaps, nobody would understand. Hell, I can’t even comprehend them anymore, but as long as my fingers appear sanitized, I’ll get voted in tomorrow as the first woman President of the United States.

I pulled the meat grinder out from under the sink and handed it to my future V.P. After his roommate was pureed and disposed of in the sewer, he was listed at the police station on a missing person’s report, with no questions asked.

The next day after spending a usual long night of tossing and turning in my own bed, my limo driver picked me up and dropped me off downtown at the City Auditorium where there was a party being held in my favor because today was the day for the results of the presidential election. I was then escorted to my private dressing room to freshen up before my live stage and television appearance before millions.

I sat at the vanity and looked at myself in the mirror. My long auburn hair, gently pulled back with a butterfly comb, was silky and gorgeous. My daffodil blouse screamed simple country girl. My long black skirt with frills and my fabulous yellow stilettos with leather detail yelled style. Although, masking my hideous past with this grin on my face with my perfectly plump and moist luscious lips coated with the right shade of mauve lipstick, felt quite tacky. I didn’t know if I could pull it off anymore and looked away from myself in shame. Moments later in dismay, I looked into the mirror again and in the distance I saw a shadow lurking in the doorway which brought on inside me an eerie feeling I couldn’t quite put my fingers on. The shadow moved towards me and in walked my future VP.

He took me by the hand and led me onto the stage before thousands of dedicated and trusting cheering fans. My presence to them was irresistible. They’ve been extremely supportive during these past few months – donating their every last penny towards my campaign, despite the fact we are currently at the highest rate of unemployment in American history. These people didn’t see me as a leader. They saw me as a Messiah, their God. I could promise a rainbow during a hurricane and they’d believe me. It took me little to no effort, perhaps a subtle smile, to persuade and control this cattle of a nation who were my personal army.

Still holding my future VP’s hand, I stared past the audience and into oblivion. I dreamt of what I desired for this nation. My first act would be to announce the truth about Fort Knox. It was empty. The last time the vault was full of gold bars was back in 1974 when Reagan viewed it with the country. Also, I’d repeal Executive Order 10988 – Quit the U.N. and I.M.F. I needed to fuck the bankers and the unions at the same time. Have them blame each other. Confidence would dwindle down to nothing with a bloody result of rioting in the streets. The economy would burst. The grocery stores had 3 days max until emptied. Millions left homeless. Children’s futures would be stolen. It would be better than I had ever imagined. I’d (then) declare Martial Law and be the most powerful person in the world… indefinitely.

I’d also make all the illegal aliens legal citizens, in turn, making Spanish the main speaking language in America. Create a one world government. Burn the churches because I am your Lord. Confiscate the guns, the ammo, the swords, the tomahawks. Erase history by incinerating old history books; thanks e-books for making my time more manageable! Put forth a paperless society ridding future books, money, and love letters in your companion’s briefcase. Easily round up the herd; the earthworms who’ve willingly documented themselves worldwide on Facebook – their thoughts, feelings, where they stand on religion and politics, links to their family members and friends, exploiting their children with ridiculous photographs – separate and rid of the undesirable worthless dumb animals. It was so easy to push out the blacks from Christianity with our fluky invention of Kwanzaa - not a religion or celebrating Christ, but about family traditions, values, and presents. While the Muslim terrorists invade our country, the blacks will be easily transferred into the mosques, and used once again, as slaves. White Catholics and Jews haven’t a chance. You can run but you can’t hide - we’re a borderless society now. No mistakes this time. We can easily track your exact whereabouts using your cell phone. You can’t hide in the floorboards of your neighbor’s house, or in the sewer system – like the Jews did during the first Holocaust – we have advanced electronic heat sensors now. My army is the indoctrinated youth. Disintegrate. Exterminate. Annihilate.

The announcement of my life came over the loud speaker and confirmed my dream. Applauds and cheers from the unsuspecting crowd. Hand over your souls America – you’re God is officially now in service.

I’m so glad I’ve teamed up with someone I trust. Someone I know inside and out… but now that I think about it, he sure worked a little too well with that Saw-zall.

 

Summer's Day

Eric Bonholttzer - Monrovia, California 

            

Summer was burning the ashes, watching intently as every trace of her boyfriend’s favorite blue shirt disappeared into the smoldering fire of burning leaves. She thought about just how much her boyfriend loved that shirt, and smiled a little, the engraved brass buttons the only thing she ever liked about it. She watched the tendrils of smoke as they wafted on the breeze, carrying away all the bitter memories of her former flame. She felt relieved, cathartic, as if now everything could be alright, as if this was the final symbol of letting go. She almost couldn’t believe it was over, the years she’d lived in her ex’s shadow. In the light of the hot autumn day when so many people were incinerating their piles of dead leaves, Summer reached up and touched the tender bruise around her eye, still wincing at the pain. It had taken unbelievable courage to finally get free, but Summer smiled, knowing that she was worth it.

As the fire subsided, she saw a glint amid the ash and shook her head, admonishing herself not to be so careless. Picking through the charred remains, she retrieved the engraved buttons of her ex’s favorite shirt, and the bloodied teeth that had not succumbed to the fire, placing them in her pocket and preparing for the new day, knowing that he could never touch her again. 

 

The Pathetic Creature

Eugene T Connolly - Alsip, IL.  

 

He finally finished cutting the lawn and headed to the shed to get the hedge trimmer. He didn’t really feel like tackling another job, but figured that by next week, some of the bushes would be so high that he’d need a ladder to reach the tops. So he dragged himself over, slid open the door, and grabbed the trimmer and the extension cord. He then walked the entire length of the yard and proceeded to connect the cord to the outlet.

His mind drifted as he headed back toward the shrubs and bushes that surround the small decorative pond.

“At least I finished that report last night”, he thought, “and I’ll do the bills tonight.”

He began estimating the dollar amount of the bills he needed to pay, and compared it to the amount he had in the checking account.

“Maybe its not as bad as I thought”, he said to himself, but then, “No, there’s something I’m missing…there’s got to be.”

He started the trimmer and went to work, expertly shaping the bushes and evergreens, sculpting the small trees and shrubs. He’d stop every now and then to catch his breath. The sun was high in the sky and there wasn’t any real breeze. He sat on the bench, which faced the pond, and rested for a moment.

A little sparrow flew down and skipped toward the small rose bush, then stopped. It bent forward and appeared to gobble up a few insects, which were probably exposed by the cutting of the grass. He watched as the bird hopped here and there looking for, and then finding another meal. This was probably the closest he’d ever been to a bird, without it flying away.

“Poor little creature”, he thought, “no arms or hands…picking food up from the dirt.” Then, “Sara’s tuition payment! That’s what I forgot!”

He took a deep breath, then exhaled. The bird flew away. He stood up, and walked again to the bushes and resumed his work while trying to think of a solution to this familiar problem.

“I’ll just have to time it right”, he thought, “I’ll mail the check by Wednesday, and deposit my check on Friday. That way, I should avoid the late charge and still not receive an overdraft.”

Some of the clipped branches and leaves were landing in the pond, and he was already noticing the little waterfall slowing down.

“What else is new?” he said out loud, realizing he had yet another job to do. He stood back and looked at the shrubbery. He decided that he didn’t do a bad job.

Walking back to the pond, he noticed that his poor little creature friend had returned, hopping around looking for more food. But he wanted to finish his tasks, and get inside where it was cool. He was sweating and tired, and had other things to do. He slowly got on his hands and knees then on his belly and felt an ache for each inning he had pitched from the age of ten till the age of twenty-two.

He scooped up as many branches and leaves from the water that he could, and threw them under some of the plants. Then he reached down and felt the pump at the bottom of the pond, and scraped off the leaves that were blocking the filter. Right away, the little waterfall came alive, and in a few seconds was pouring out clear water.

He picked himself up, brushed himself off, walked to the bench and sat down. The little bird continued hopping around, and then stopped for a moment to look around.

“Such a strange little creature” he thought, “its nervous head constantly moving…no arms…”

He watched as it passed the trimmed rose bush, and again found a nice meal. Then it proceeded to the little waterfall, took a quick bath, drank a bit of fresh water, and flew away, leaving the pathetic creature behind.

 

INSPIRED BY WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, I FAIL TO BECOME A WRITER

Christopher Mohnacky - Philadelphia, Pa.

 

 

A young writer in college must have money with which to buy books, plaid flannel shirts, vintage Doors records and Wild Irish Rose, and so I got a job delivering pizzas. Four Star Pizza was the discount franchise in town, offering a 12” sub and a coke for $4.95, a large pepperoni pizza and two cokes for $9.95. We delivered mostly to college dorms and the projects. Most customers expected the nickel back in change, but tips nevertheless added up to about $100 a week. That, plus minimum wage and mileage, paid my rent, got my groceries and bought all the used typewriters, scratched records and tweed jackets I wanted from the Salvation Army. The job had other benefits as well.

 

I loved to drive recklessly as fast as possible through town, cutting through back alleys, racing down one lane neighborhood streets with my arm hanging out the window and Led Zeppelin blasting on the radio, and I was fascinated by the chance to go places regular citizens weren't allowed to go, see things no one else knew about. I delivered Italian subs to moldy basement apartments where the only running water was a garden hose through the window. I delivered extra cheese and sausage pizzas to riverside shanties wallpapered with Christmas wrap and decorated with 10,000 broken toys and colored glass shards all carefully arranged on concrete bock and salvage-wood shelves. I even gained access to the Black Elks Club down by the river, a maze of velvet curtains and blue neon established in the 60's when the Fraternal Order of Elks refused to admit African American members, all thanks to my blue pizza uniform and hotbag. Here, finally, was the gritty life experience I needed to be a great writer, just like my literary hero William S. Burroughs.

 

Perhaps unlike Burroughs, I was perfectly content to passively observe scenes of urban poverty and decay and then go home to my comfortable parent-subsidized apartment with sheers and curtains in the windows, Chagall prints and Reservoir Dogs posters on the walls, novels and style guides on shelves all the way down the hall, but sometimes my deliveries cast me in a more active role. At a duplex on Trolley Street with chest-high weeds and a rusty swingset in the yard, a three year old boy answered the tattered screen door and asked, “Are you my daddy?” At a nursing home on Maplewood Drive, an elderly woman, naked under her blue paper shift, stopped me in the hallway and wept, “Please help me, please tell me how to get out of here!”I had nothing clever to say, then. Nothing I had ever read in 20thCentury Novel class prepared me for the hopeful face of a child I had to disappoint, the wretched plea of an old woman I had to deny. “I'm sorry, I'm not,” I told the little boy, “is your Mom home?” “I'm sorry, I don't know,” I said to the old lady, and I swear I would have told her the way if I knew it, but I was lost in there, too, looking for a nurse’s station to ask directions.

 

One night, I delivered a ham and cheese sub and a diet coke to a ruined tenement on a hill above an abandoned train yard. A flight of muddy water-worn concrete stairs led me down from the street to a low passageway that opened cave-like into the face of the building. I wasn't sure if it was the front doorway, since it had no door or threshold or any kind of a sign, but then I noticed a bank of battered mailboxes on the wall just inside. The mailboxes had apartment numbers and showed signs of recent use, so I ducked my head and went inside.

 

The passageway was clogged with wet garbage bags, construction rubble, broken strollers and plastic toys. Halfway back, a light bulb on a wire glowed dimly even as rusty brown water dripped off it like a stalactite. The electrocution hazard it posed should have been enough to warn me away, but now I was curious about the kind of people who lived in such conditions. Using a stack of warped lumber as a bridge, I crossed the water pooled under the light bulb and made my way to the end of the tunnel, where a set of crooked blue stairs led up into a dark splintered shipwreck of a building.

 

The door to 3A was open, the room inside brightly lit and smoky. A heavy-set woman with tattooed hands lay in a busted recliner. She started when I knocked at the door jamb. She appeared deeply intoxicated, her mouth slack, her gaze wall-eyed. “Oh, hey, it's the pizza man,” she said with effort. A gruff man's voice from the other side of the room cheered,“Hey, pizza man!” I looked in and saw a big guy with a handlebar mustache and a Harley shirt laying on the couch by the TV. A good looking blonde woman straddled his lap. She looked up at me only briefly, intent as she was on caressing his chest and bare arms.

 

The heavyset woman struggled out of her recliner to take the sub and coke, explaining that her money was in the other room. My manager at Four Star had warned me, “Always get the money first, then hand over the food,”but these people seemed dangerous, volatile. They had been drinking, as evidenced by the dozens of Coors Light cans scattered across the floor, but they were more than just drunk, and the smoke in the air smelled distinctly different than cigarettes or weed. Looking back, I realize they must have been smoking meth. At the time, I only knew they were on something bad and that made me afraid to say no to them.

 

Taking the food with her, the heavyset woman disappeared into a back bedroom to look for her money. While I waited for her to return, the blonde and the biker on the couch grew more passionate in their caresses. She knelt stroking his chest and shoulders with prayerful intensity, inhaling his scent, gripping him with her thighs, releasing, gripping and releasing. He touched her just as passionately, though he did not worship her. He enjoyed her like a prince would enjoy a fine gift. He handled her admiringly. He cupped the sides of her breasts, pressed his fingers into the soft places between her ribs, molded the muscles of her thighs, calves and delicate bare feet, not roughly, but masterfully. He noticed me watching and laughed good-naturedly, enjoying my embarrassment, inviting me to keep watching if I wanted. I looked away, felt square, leaned against the door jamb, slipped a hand casually into my pocket as if to say, “I'm just waiting for my money. You do what you want.” After a while, I watched them some more.

 

Finally, the heavyset woman returned. “I can't find my money,” she said, “but if you want to, come on in and close the door behind you.” She sat down in her recliner, looked at the couple on the couch and then back at me, frankly. “I'd love to love you, baby.”

 

The blonde laughed.“Party with us, pizza man.”

“I have to get back to the store,” I said.

“They won't miss you for a while,” said the biker.

 

The lions on the veldt were asking me to come and be one of them. I considered the invitation. If I accepted, I felt that I would learn about true freedom, how to live without laws or philosophy, how to exist in the world without any care but to enjoy sex and sunlight and the taste of fresh meat with the blood still alive in it. But I wasn't a lion. I could never trust them not to eat me, too, whenever they felt like it. As for the promise of sex in return for a $4.95 ham and provolone sub with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and mayo on the side, I might have agreed if the good-looking blonde stripper had asked me instead. The brunette, with her belly fat, walleyes and tattooed hands, was more toad than lion.

 

“I better get back,” I told her. “You go ahead and keep the sub.” 

“You sure?” she asked. “Well, thanks pizza man. Come on back after work if you want to party.”

 

Back at Four Star Pizza, I had to explain why my wallet would be short. My manager, Brian, complained. “They're going to think they can get free food anytime they want. The next guy who delivers there might get hurt.” “I don't care,”I said. “You want the money, you go get it. I'm not going back in that place.”

 

Brian said that wasn't the point, and we argued about it some more, but he didn't take the money out of my pay. The people in 3A never called again. A few months later the building was demolished. Nothing else came of it.

 

Still, I worried that I had failed an essential test of being a writer. William S. Burroughs would have gone in that room and closed the door behind him. He would have taken their drugs and told them stories and got them to talking and telling stories themselves until he had learned something really worth writing about.

 

In contrast to my literary hero, I thought about the experience many times over the years, but I never wrote about it. I was too middle-class, too smart for my own good, too afraid to risk everything for the sake of art. Whenever I told the story, out with friends, drunk and garrulous on whiskey, I always explained it was the story of the time I could have been a writer but didn't do it.

 

Twenty years later, I'm still not a writer. I'm a teacher who writes in his spare time, much like my friend the paralegal who writes songs in her spare time, the social worker who makes sculptures out of driftwood and copper wire, the librarian who spins post-punk in nightclubs on the weekends. Perhaps we each once cherished romantic ideals and thought it necessary to out-drink Dylan Thomas in order to create something brilliant, but when the moment of decision arrived, we recoiled from death, preferring instead to go home to our comfortable apartments with doors and carpets to cook some asparagus and work on something modest on our laptops for a little while before bedtime.

 

A Day for Unlikely Visitors

 

Kirsten Marino Walz - Asheville, NC

 

The day was unusual from the start.  Luxuriously, Isabel slept until 11:30 – the latest she'd

slept in years.  She hadn't realized she was exhausted but surely must have been.  And she dreamed at some point that she'd overslept for something but was only vaguely and mildly  concerned.  Although it seemed to Isabel that by her sloth, something was melting to nothing, she nonetheless emphatically relished this deep slumber and felt it was much more important to lie there, drinking thirstily from the divine dark fountain of rest, infusing the being she’d come to know as "me" with sustenance that only it could.

It is said one cannot make up for lost sleep:  once it’s gone it’s gone.  But Isabel never believed that or found it to be the case.  She’s experienced the drag-yourself-around-under-the-water feeling from lack of-sleep while cramming for exams and writing papers in college.  During the weeks she’d sleep little, reading, writing, studying fervently, basically working herself to utter exhaustion only to make up for it by sleeping excessively, by comparison, on the weekends.   It was delicious.  And it invariably had the effect of calming and energizing her so that she felt it was inconceivable that she would ever be tired again.  This feeling made the fatigue worth it as it was its own type of drug.  Inexpensive, it involved only her own internal chemicals. 

Yes, the day began with Isabel feeling only mildly concerned about oversleeping. The world could wait....
            It was almost noon, yet the day loomed, enormous and anodyne, a much-needed day of no schedule.  How the weekdays had hovered, constraining and oppressive.  And she felt liberated from all that.  Later, she knew she would lament the day’s diminishment – would feel a mild gloom at the dissolving of something once vast and full of promise into something that could nevermore exist, but in memory.  After she’d lingered over coffee, slowly waking, soaking in the lovely Sunday unhurriedness, she delved into her reading (O, there’s time to read!).  After an hour or so, her dog began barking, urgently trying to get her attention.  It was the bark signaling a visitor. 

 

She walked out the backdoor and stepped onto the deck.  She heard voices before she saw anyone.  She started down the deck steps and saw her husband, Al, talking to a man and woman she’d never seen before.  She overheard the woman asking Al in a high, sing-song voice, “Do you love living here?”  Isabel joined the three of them as the woman, without waiting for an answer, conveyed that she had lived in our house in the '30's and she and her husband wanted to stop and see it on their way from DC to New Orleans.  Accompanying her speech were exaggerated gestures she made with white frail hands.  She said her name was Elaine Hughes McDowell, although there might have been another name in there too.  At what Isabel later learned was 80 years old, Elaine was visibly more than a little older than her companion.  Her died black hair fell to her neckline and framed her squarish face.  She was very thin, almost distortedly so, with a belly that protruded oddly.   It would have looked like a normal belly had she not been so exceedingly thin.  Instead, she seemed a caricature, her belly the only thing on her sticking out and it looking propped on, like an afterthought that didn’t quite belong on her body. 

Still amazed at the nature of their visit, Isabel and Al invited the visitors inside, but Elaine didn't want to go inside, explicably wishing to preserve her long-held memories of the house’s interior.  She spoke incessantly in a southern, south-of-here voice, nearly dominating the conversation, and our attention was at first mostly directed to her.  She was friendly yet something seemed to seethe under her surface, and Isabel had the sense she could become churlish quickly should the conversation take a different turn. 

The man smiled modestly and introduced himself as her husband, James M. Barlow.  He shook their hands warmly with intimations of gratitude and an almost undetectable diffidence (perhaps embarrassment?).  Elaine interjected that he was a writer and started listing the books he’d written.  Mounting Current was one of them.  “Oh, yeah,” Isabel said.  Of course she’d heard of that one.  Its complete title is Mounting Current:  The Great Natural Disaster of the Twentieth

 

Century.  It’s a highly acclaimed, prize-winning book that was on the New York Times Best Seller List.  He also wrote Vast Epidemic and has been involved in other impressive enterprises, including advising prior presidential administrations on epidemic prevention. 

James had on a faded shirt that said BROWN," which Isabel later learned from Googling him that that's where he received his undergraduate degree before going to the University of Rochester, writing numerous books and appearing frequently on various national television and news discussion programs.

Notably, James was humble and unassuming, thanking us for graciously indulging them in their unexpected visit to our property.  He was completely devoid of any air of self-importance; it was hard to believe he's someone so much in the public awareness.  Isabel and Al assured him they were delighted to meet them both, which we were.  It’s not every day you get to meet the former resident of your house.

  Elaine seemed familiar.  Throughout their conversation, Isabel kept trying to remember where she might have seen her before.  She mentioned this to Al later, and he explained that Elaine is a southern archetype.  Isabel could think of several southern archetypes.  He clarified:  a Tennessee Williams archetype.  Isabel thought she might be more of a Margaret Mitchell archetype.  She pondered:  Blanche vs. Scarlet.  Similar but not identical.  Probably Elaine was a combination of both with a few sprinkles of others thrown into the mix.  Clearly she wished to appear sophisticated and cultured, but came across as utterly childlike; she was genteel – gentility seemed to ooze from every pore –  yet she was quite puerile in her tendency to assume such familiarity with strangers, treating them as best friends.  Elaine was as manic as she was charming; and she kept repeating herself, asking at least four times “Do you love living here?” as she evidently tried to reclaim some of the magic of yesteryears.   

Your closet is a walk-in closet, right?” Elaine  asked.  The foursome were then standing in the driveway looking up at the master bedroom’s back window, near the place where the walk-in closet was located. 

Yes,’

 Does it have shelves?”

Yes. 

I used to live in there.  I had all my dolls on those shelves and that's where I played.  Do you love living here?” 

Isabel and Al told her they absolutely did.  Then, eyeing their cars’ bumper stickers, Elaine clapped her hands together and suddenly blurted, “Oh, I'm so glad you live here!  I can't believe what's happened to this state.”  Isabel agreed, saying she too was appalled by recent legislative actions. 

They began walking up the driveway toward the street.  Abruptly Elaine started for their car.  Isabel thought she said she had to show them her dog and was taken aback when Elaine came back holding a doll:  an old china doll with a cracked skull dressed in a time-worn, once-white, dingy cotton dress.  With childlike delight, Elaine told them her doll’s name was Belle.  She held Belle up so that her eyes faced the house and said, “Remember?…you lived here, Belle.”  Then she asked James to take some pictures of her and Belle in front of the house, to which James obliged without hesitation.  “Are you sure you don't want to take a peek inside?” Al asked Elaine.  “I'm sure,” she replied.  And James, with a knowing smile, said, “You know, like Tom Wolfe, this is close enough.” 

 

 

"The Speech"

 

Nick Kaczmarek - Midland, MI

 

 

“Friends, it is so good to be back with you” the Congressman began, surveying the crowd assembled in the sunshine. His voice thundered with a power that seemed to come from someplace other than his relatively small frame.

 

Watching from the edge of the park, Joe stood with his wife. Given the steadily building heat of the day, Joe was thankful for the shade of several tall oaks. His wife wondered if, before too long, the steady progress of the sun would make their position less pleasant.

 

Joe had always been a supporter of the Congressman, voting for him in every election, but this was the first time he was able to hear him speak in person. Joe wished that his two brothers could be there with him. The threesome often had spirited discussions about politics, and Joe was usually in the minority. He was confident that a distinguished man like the Congressman could more compellingly convey what Joe believed. Joe had warned his brothers that he would pay close attention and use the Congressman’s words to effectively enlighten them.

 

Joe’s older brother was taking his son to college and his younger brother had moved away over a year ago, drawn to another state by the promise of new, high-tech jobs. The latter had suggested several times that Joe join him. His most recent invitation came earlier that week. He informed Joe that his company was hiring and that he was on good terms with his coworkers and managers. Until now, Joe had refused without giving the matter a serious thought. This town had been Joe’s home for his entire life. He and his wife had met in school; the same school their own children now attended. They were married in a simple white church; the same church that they still worshiped in each Sunday. Joe had gone to work at the local factory immediately after completing school; the same factory he worked at now. Unfortunately, business was slow and rumors were circulating that they could shut down. On their way to the park, Joe’s wife brought up about the possibility of leaving the town they loved and accepting his brother’s offer. Joe could not miss two differences in today’s conversation: first that her voice was more anxious, and secondly, that when Joe tried to dismiss the notion, she persisted.

 

“Friends, I know that this area has been hit by hard times, and I want to assure you that each and every day I am in Washington, I am fighting for you. I am fighting to keep good jobs in this area.”

 

The Congressman’s words were soothing to Joe whose ever present companion of late was worry. Worry whispered anxious thought at him, primarily about the factory. Knowing that the Congressman was fighting to keep jobs in the area was comforting, like the tall oaks providing cool shade from the hot sun.

 

“As I came into town last night, I went by a magnificent estate up on Essex Hill. You know the great monument to luxury that I’m talking about friends; the one owned by Mr. David Rock.” His emphasis on Mister was not a sign of respect. “It is no secret that Mr. David Rock and I do not see eye to eye on many things, but, instead of spending his money on his own luxury, maybe he should spend a little more on the local factory and its workers.”

 

Joe’s comfort turned to a smoldering re-awareness of the inequality he was subjected to. Mr. David Rock was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and enjoyed all of life’s finer things. Joe, on the other hand, had to scratch and claw his way through life.

Although David Rock was a few years older than Joe, he had known him since childhood. After all, their town was small and it was not uncommon to bump into the Rocks now and then. Joe’s older brother seemed blind to the chasm between the Rocks and the rest of the world; perhaps because he and David Rock, or Dave as his brother called him, had been classmates. After school, Joe’s brother worked various jobs, started a carpentry business and his wife took in laundry, including the laundry of the Rock family. Mr. David Rock went away to enjoy four years of college and returned to sit in an office at his father’s factory. Joe’s brother slowly built his own business, eventually saving enough to buy a few acres for a workshop and small farm. Mr. David Rock became richer and opened several other businesses. It puzzled Joe that his brother and Mr. David Rock remained friendly acquaintances often exchanging in conversations after church. Joe knew that hearing a man like the Congressman would help his brother see the obvious unfairness.

 

Joe worked hard at the factory that contained Mr. David Rock’s office. Joe would see him when arrived at work every day, just sitting there, reading this, or writing that. When Joe went home, tired and sore, Mr. David Rock would still be sitting there, with stacks of papers scattered across his desk. When Mr. David Rock would walk around the factory, he would ask Joe and the other workers how they could improve production or cut costs. Joe had to be careful, jobs were hard to come by, and he did not want to give an idea which might cost a coworker and friend their job.

 

At first, the business slowdown was welcome; Joe had more time to relax. But he had not worked a Saturday in years and could not remember the last time a new employee was hired. When workers left, they were not replaced and there was a lot of downtime. All of this was happening as Joe was finally in a position to start saving for his golden years.

 

“So in conclusion friends, I want to thank you for your support. As you cast your ballots in a few months, I know that I can count on you to send me back to Washington. And you know that you can count on me to keep fighting to keep good jobs here!”

 

Joe enthusiastically joined the applause, confident that with the Congressman fighting for the working man, everything was going to be all right. He looked at his wife, her beautiful smile and reddening cheeks shining in the hot sun.

 

As they walked out of the park he told her that he was going to write his younger brother. While he appreciated the invitation to join him in Detroit’s new, high-tech automobile business, he was going to remain in town. Joe was going to stay at the buggy whip factory.

 

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Waiting At The Stop Light

 Charlotte Fiehn -

 

Waiting at the stop light, I saw a pitiful figure standing on the edge of the grass, balancing on the slim block of concrete that curved around to form the junction. She stood there, unsteady, a cardboard sign in her hands, colorful and bold. “Tired and Hungry,” it read, branded across her chest like a scarlet letter. “I have failed. My life is hopeless. I am past that point of desperation that’s even known to you.”

 

I waited in my car, indicator blinking and betraying my intention. I would turn away as soon as I could. I wouldn’t role down my window for her, or anyone else. She wasn’t the first person I’d seen there, although usually they stand in the island, closer to where my car was then, catching both sides of the traffic in a more strategic position.

 

The longer I looked at her, scanning across to the traffic light every now and again, the more I thought about my own experience of poverty. Tired and hungry wasn’t unfamiliar to me either. Only two years ago, my three year old daughter told me that her father had touched her. Three days later, everything was cut off – the only thing to be done but it came at a price. For about a month, the wheels of justice barely moved and I remember crying bitterly, hiding away in the library at the community center, checking the welfare information over and over to find out when the food stamps money was going to be paid to our account – a pretty teal green card with the words EBT in yellow.

 

I remember the handouts too and the mixture of desperate gratitude and guilt. I had no choice. I remember telling myself that and my friend said it to. She told me there was no point being proud in that moment. I had to reach out. I had to ask for help and take it where it was offered, and the offers weren’t much. I remember wondering what exactly the scale was for figuring out that kind of charity. A sick husband seemed to earn the wife a series of hot meals, gas cards, and grocery gift cards – a school wide donation, an email to parents. Our case was nothing so dramatic. The bids for help were silent, the underlying cause too terrible to admit and the truth too terrifying.

 

What truth did she have, I wondered? She looked well dressed enough. She shoes were hardy but far from what you might expect for someone who lived on the street. What did I know about that, though? The token homeless man back in New York, the elderly man who used to sleep out on the ledge by our apartment and dispense marital advice when he saw either one of us coming home less than happy. Appearances can be deceptive, they say, and I guess that’s true. I didn’t look as desperate as I was back then either. You try to put on a strong face, to pretend that things aren’t all that bad anyway and that you’re sure to survive. Why would it be any different for her?

 

And she was crying. I could see the tears as I looked over at her face, saw the give away motion of a wrist to her face, catching the dampness on the cuff of her sleeve. But no one stopped and I didn’t stop either.

 

The light turned green and I turned my car away. I drove away without another look, without really thinking about her again; the only real thoughts I had were for myself and my children.

 

I told myself I would have stopped. Perhaps if she’d crossed to the other side of the road I would have handed her the box of clementines balanced on my passenger seat. I don’t know.  It might have been too divisive perhaps, too unfeeling, to hand food to someone who needed so much more.

 

The experience made me grateful that I had clawed my away above that, never really gotten there in the first place, although in some ways, perhaps we sunk lower. It was the impossibility of doing the right think that struck me too, though, as she came to me later; that vision. What can we ever do for each other and ourselves in such darkness?

 

Bride's Head

Rex Sexton -  

 

“It’s the jitters.” Dori told Sarah, as she wrapped her hair in curlers. “Every bride

gets them. 

Sarah sat dazed in the salon chair, still shaken from her nightmare. The

dream had been so real. In it Mark, her fiancée, had been trying to smother her. When

she finally managed to pull herself out of his grasp, twisting and struggling with her

blankets, her head was in such a fog that she had to grope her way across the bedroom

and study her reflection in the dresser’s mirror to see if she was really there. The shower

did little to wash away the night of horrors. Her body actually hurt, as though she had, in

fact, been wrestling for her life with Mark. She called off work and after a breakfast she

couldn’t stomach, staring at the TV with its morning chatter and breaking disasters, she

called the beauty salon to get redone.

 

“Remember that runaway bride on the news?” Dori mused. “Whatever happened

with that? I lost track. Never mind. I’m just saying doubts, fears, second thoughts –

every bride has them. And the horrific dreams don’t disappear just because prince

charming puts a ring on your finger. I’ll have a dream about Tony cheating on me and I

won’t talk to him all day. At least not till he makes up to me in a big way. Dreams are

crazy. I just did a woman’s hair who had a nightmare about being dead. Bad enough

you think? But no. The bad part was that she was too fat to lie down in her coffin – so

she had to stand there while everyone at her wake laughed at her!”

 

“Is she that fat?”

 

“Poor dear, she could hardly squeeze into the chair.”

 

“So there was truth to it,” Sarah reflected, “her subconscious telling her to go on a

diet and throwing death in as a warning to get her going? Forget the perm Dori. We’ll

do something different today.”

 

“But I thought Mark liked it that way?”

 

“He does. But we’re going to make a change. Mark’s a bit too conservative. Die

it red. Make it zany. I suddenly want to look wild and crazy.”