Monday, March 10, 2014

Better Late Than Never by Kelly Butler

I walked to school every day until I was ten years old. In the late summer, when school was just beginning, the air was warm even in the early hours of the morning. My friends would ride their bikes to school and I remember seeing them fly past me. The wind blew at their faces, and the sticky summer air turned into a cool blanket. It swirled around them as they arrived at their destination. I would run alongside them, trying to move my tiny legs fast enough to keep up with their ten-speed bicycles, but to no avail.  Their bikes would carry them effortlessly along the pavement, while mine stomped along the sidewalk trying to maintain pace. I remember my first bike—a bright pink Huffy that had swirls along the frame, it was the perfect vehicle to carry me to school. There was only one problem; I didn’t know how to ride it. Every day before I went to school I would sit on it, hoping to learn through osmosis, but with little success.  Finally, the day came where I had had enough. I asked my mom a question that had plagued me for a while “Can you teach me how to ride my bike?”

Her words hung in the air “Sure, I’ll teach you this weekend.” Even such a simple response sent oceans of nerves to my head. The anticipation made the next few days unbearable. Each hour crawled by at an agonizingly slow pace that made snails look fast. Finally Friday came and I ran home from school in pursuit of my bright pink bicycle. I imagined myself gliding down the street just like my friends had, with my feet peddling me along. I arrived home and waited impatiently for my mother to return from work. I paced in front of the door like a dog, and even stood at the window once I heard her car come up the driveway. I told myself to give my mother enough time to settle in before I asked her to teach me how to ride a bike, which to my ten year-old brain meant enough time for her to walk through the front door. She just gave me a gentle “In a minute” but I could not wait another second. My melodramatic brain threw a fit and caused my mother to banish me to my room and revoke my biking lessons for an entire day. My tiny feet stomped up the stairs in protest as I made my way to my bedroom. This is where I remained until dinner, wishing with all my heart that I knew how to ride a bike. That night, I dozed off to visions of roads and sidewalks painted by my pink bike. The wind blew my hair back and my long, auburn strands melted into a sunset of roses and reds.

The sound of my brothers running in the hallway woke me up. My clock read 7:00AM, a modest time for my rambunctious five year-old brothers to cluck everyone in the house awake. I got up and dressed for the day rushing downstairs to assemble my arsenal of safety. I adorned an oversized helmet, courtesy of my older brother, as well as knee, elbow, and shin pads. My mother came downstairs and saw my apparel, and knew that it was time for me to learn how to conquer my pink beast on wheels.
Arriving outside, I stared the pink fiend down behind the visor of my brother’s helmet. Not only did it seem to have grown three sizes since the day before, but the handlebars were suddenly sharp and capable of the deadliest offenses. My mother held the bike up and told me to get on it. I stood on my highest tiptoes to mount the monstrosity. Looking back on it now, it only stood barely two feet high and I could have easily made the feat. My mother giggled as my lanky arms twisted around the handlebars and my legs wrapped the frame in order to support myself. Slowly but surely, I had affixed myself onto the bike. Now was the hard part; staying there.

I don’t remember exactly how many times I hit the ground that day. To say that it was a few would be an understatement. My palms were raw from hitting the pavement and I swear that I lost a kneepad that day. My mother saw how meek her efforts were at keeping the gangly ten year-old atop a vehicle, so she took solace in my father, who had just arrived home from work. I looked up from my bike at my dad, casting a tall shadow over my worn face. He told me to “Make a game of it. Time yourself and see how many seconds you can ride before you fall.” A game? I liked games. I accepted his challenge and walked my bike to the farthest edge of my driveway.

My mother positioned herself behind me, holding me up, and I began counting. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three—and then I would lose it. My father encouraged me to pedal faster. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four miss—and I would fall again. This time, however, I stayed down. My hands were raw and my knees were bloody from hitting the ground. I began to cry. Why was it that everyone else could ride a bike and I couldn’t? Was I stupid?

My dad saw me crying and picked me up. He told me not to give up, and that if I got it the next time I tried that he would take me to the store and get me my own helmet and pads. I accepted his offer and climbed the bike once more. I had to get it this time. I had to be able to do it. I closed my eyes and remembered my dream. I imagined myself floating down the street with the wind at my face. I opened my eyes. My mother was right behind me and I started to pedal. I counted in my head one Mississippi, pink tassels, two Mississippi, my feet were gliding alongside the bike, three Mississippi, the bike tilted to the side, and I was afraid that I was going to fall, but recovered, four Mississippi, I feel the wind at my face, five Mississippi, I tell my mom to let go, six Mississippi, she already had.

The next morning, I saw my friends on their bikes riding to school. They waved for me to run alongside them, but instead I shook my head and went back towards my garage. I looked at my pink vehicle. It was no longer a symbol of what I could be, nor was it a device laced with fear and pain. Suddenly, standing there ready to go to school, it was a symbol of freedom. I would no longer have to run beside my friends. Today, my feet would pedal alongside the pink frame instead of stomp the hard pavement. Mounted upon my bicycle, I cycled myself outside towards my friends. Once they saw me upon my rose masterpiece, they pedaled around me, birds flocking to a new member of their group. My heart soared with excitement as we made our way to school, because today, with my bike, I could fly.

Kelly Butler is an undergraduate student at Columbia College in Chicago. Being a native of Chicago, she is often inspired by the music, childhood memories, and the vast landscape of the city.

Sound by Jacquelyn Mixon

It was a gray afternoon with clouds filling the sky. The air was damp and would have been chilly if not for the constant breathe of all of the people waiting outside of the Shoebox Theater. The weather was not exactly pleasant, but that is what you expect when you venture to downtown Seattle in early autumn. The crowd there was less than desirable. The sickly sweet smell of marijuana and the bitterness of cigarette smoke would constantly invade your nasal cavity. I had never even listened to the band before the show, but at the time I was less concerned with the music and more distressed by the man in a leather jumpsuit with the dilated pupils in front of me.

Concerts had never really been my thing, especially when they involved such an obnoxious crowd.
Everyone had been screeching at friends who were at different parts of the line or cackling at some lame sex joke. My brother, Sam, had been dying to see the band play. They were his favorite and they forced his usually sullen attitude out the window to be replaced with one that resembled a child on Christmas. I never fully understood his love for their music until that day. I was more concentrated on how out of place I felt instead of the experience.

Big, burly security guards dressed in all black stalked up and down the long line of people, howling, “No recording of the concert is allowed! That means no photography, no video, and no sound recording!”

Their strange mantra continued as the doors were opened and we were all herded inside to get our first look at the place.  The interior of the theater was smaller than I expected. The lightning gave it a magenta hue which made the attendants’ faces a light wan color. The ground was made of smoothed out concrete that gave the impression of someone forgetting to add the final layer to the floor plan. There was a makeshift, off-white table in a corner selling over-priced purple and blue t-shirts. It wobbled and threatened to topple over whenever anyone leaned against it. A woman dressed in the same garb as the security guards stood in front of the doors handing out pink and purple ear plugs.  

I was separated from my brother soon after the opening band came on and everything got worse from there. He moved effortlessly through the slew of people to the front of the stage, while I awkwardly tried to follow. I ended up ramming my lips into the side of a six foot tall behemoth of a frat boy. I basically ended up licking his bicep and reeled in disgust. He tasted vinegary and sour, like an expired bag of chips. He did not even glance back at me while I forced my way through the crowd, threatening to vomit from his taste.  I ended up being pushed to the side next to cast away trunks from the band. I sighed and just sat down on the ground, regretting that I came. The opening band sounded like a dying a vulture. I do not even remember their name or what they looked like. I was miserable and was reduced to just watching everyone clumsily gyrate to the music. The opening band finally took their last bows, and moved off stage. I pondered just leaving then while I had the chance, but my fear of being alone in the big city beat out my melancholy.

My Bloody Valentine finally took the stage. The members were relatively older, most of them in their fifties. The band had hit their stride in the early nineties and was doing a comeback tour after twenty years of separation. The front female vocalist wore a lime green dress with a dark brown cardigan and tapered heels. She looked extremely elegant, which was surprising considering the crowd she produced. Her hair was brown, curled, and fell delicately onto her shoulders. She carried an electric guitar with a brown strap that melted into her hair. The front male vocalist had a gray curly mop of hair on his head and wore slacks and what looked like a tweed jacket. He looked more like a professor than a rock star. The theater erupted as they came on to the stage. They all seemed to form a single voice, which begged for them to begin. I slouched further into myself, feeling out of place with all of the die-hard fans. Then, they began to play.

It was of course loud, but a different kind of loud than the opening band. It was some sort of out-of-this-world mixture of soft voices and exhilarating instrumentals. The woman who was dressed in green sang like a dove. She literally cooed. In different circumstances it would have been ridiculous, but there it was lovely. Also, it was a striking contrast from the loudness of their guitars and the mashing of effect pedals from some unseen magician. The male vocalist was lower and almost had a gravely sound to his voice. His sound was a stark difference from hers that somehow merged together perfectly.  Listening to it caused relaxation and a feeling of intoxication.

When the concert ended it felt like waking up from a dream. Everything was hazy and wonderful. I reunited with Sam and we walked out into the Seattle streets completely dazzled by what we had experienced. It was especially cold that night, and a bit windy. Goosebumps prickled our skin as we waited for our ride. Words were not really said then because nothing needed to be said. I just finally understood his love for music after witnessing first-hand what phenomenal sound was really like.

Jacquelyn Mixon was born in Fountain Valley California in 1997 and moved to Morton Washington in 2007 with her older brother and mother. She is currently a student at both Centralia College East and Morton Senior High School with hopes of becoming a novelist.

The Pottery Barn Look by Wes Adamson

The man…his face was one you could get lost in. His face shared the daily wear of years of gazing…pondering…and being encompassed by the blistering Mexican sun. My new friend’s facial lines seemed to run as rivers dividing his features into years of hardships. During our exchange of good morning gestures Antonio was particularly expressive when he smiled.  His facial lines would meet and seem to overflow into a canyon of a smile showing numerous darkened earth tone teeth at the mouth’s entrance. I never knew if he was smiling or laughing at such a funny American guy attempting to use body language to assimilate his way into Spanish culture.

His name was Antonio and his microscopic plot of land was enclosed by barbed wire fence to either define his poverty lease or mark what he had borrowed from mother earth. This simple dirt square was not his, but a temporary loan from a distant affluent landowner.  In this case, the dirt beneath his feet could be erased at any time the landlord nodded his head. His brownish sun faded face, reminded me of some fashionable Pottery Barn accent color advertised for its stylish southwestern stonewash look. But the eyes of that face had more of a dull opaque look; they had seen much more than one lifetime usually allows. His eyes teased me; I wanted to go inside and rewind his life like watching a 3D movie to dissect thoughts…visions, related to years of insight living in a simpler world. I would later recognize comparable features in other eyes when we encountered homeless people in Cincinnati, and similar reflections in the eyes of HIV infected men and women pigeonholed in an isolated neglected AIDS Camp, which our group worked at in the Bahamas. I remember again that disconnected distant look in the eyes of people we met, discarded on the mountainous poverty roadsides of Appalachia. These eyes are all repeated glimpses of diverse shapes, sizes and colors, all showing a deep dejected view of a struggle lost. They represent the once dazzling eyes of youth’s bright vision of life’s dreams, but these become quickly suspended for survival reasons and/or shelved in some box in a spider-web bedroom closet, never to be opened again.

My Mexican friend, Antonio, with whom I communicated that week with countless warm eye smiles and hand hugs, lived under a tin roof, inside a dirt floor shack nearby the dwelling we were building. He was so thrilled and nodded his approval on the day that the west sidewall of the small house my group of students were building for his neighbor was raised providing him desirable shade to sit and wash his prized empty glass bottles. The bottles he unearthed at the dump would be cleaned with a smudged rag affixed to a stick by a crooked nail that scrape the glass bottle edges every turn of the stick, echoing the chilling sounds of fingernails itching a chalkboard. The bottles gurgled in the dust-covered water surrounded by dented, corroded metal tub sides, to later be sold for a few centavos at the local street market. Antonio invited me to visit him in his home one morning showing his one-room hard-packed earth floor surroundings where he slept and prepared his food. The bed consisted of layers of old worn sheets, cushioned with large pieces of rags or cloth, topped off by a tattered frayed blanket for a cover. The thought-provoking observation is that our two lab dogs, Jake and Blue, had a better sleeping bed area than he did. But Antonio never seemed to complain about his living conditions or display any jealousy over what we were building next door. Antonio, I feel, accepted that this was what the hand of cards held for him. He, like many of his Mexican peasant community, seemed to recognize and value simple daily pleasures versus the burden of possessions that clogs the drains in life.

Wes Anderson grew up on a farm in southern Ohio. A lot of what he writes about comes from the basic understanding of nature, animals, and people learned through the insight of his parents who knew how to interweave it all into a meaningful life.

The Man Who Hated Dogs by Jean Venable

Dogs were without question at the top of the list. But there were other creatures for whom he had little affection as well: Deer, for instance, the ones who nibbled at the seedlings in his newly created tree nursery. For these he had devised a special deterrent: a sturdy slingshot which he fastened to the railing of his deck with a vice. Whenever he spotted deer dining in his nursery beds out in the meadow he would take a cherry bomb, pull it back as far as it would go in the sling, light it, and let it rip, aiming it in a high arc over the heads of the perpetrators. When it went off, there would be a precipitous dispersal of the munchers, and the nursery owner, who was also a college professsor and my father, would go back into his house a satisfied man.

Dogs were another matter. There was nothing that they did that was in any way harmful to his person or his property; he just didn’t like them. Thought they should be exterminated from the United States. They slobbered and licked and smelled bad, and worst of all, in social situations where interaction could not be avoided, he had to camouflage his repugnance.

One day dear friends of my parents were coming from New Haven for a visit. Their children were grown, and the light of their lives was their Dalmatian, Jires. For an hour-and-a-half before their arrival there was animated discussion about the likelihood, or not, of their being accompanied on this visit by Jires. My father could not believe that they would be so presumptuous as to  do this without at least calling first. My mother, sister, and I thought it was extremely unlikely that they would appear at our door without Jires. My father suggested that we put our money where our mouths were and make a three-to-one wager: if Jires came, he had to give us each a buck, and if there was no Jires, we owed him three bucks.

When the couple arrived, we tried not to be too obvious peering past them when we opened the front door, but there was no Jires to be seen. After the initial greetings my father, barely concealing his smirk, casually inquired as to the absence of Jires. Our guests’ faces fell, simultaneously. “We were too upset to break it to you over the phone,” the wife said, struggling for composure, “but we lost Jires last Thursday!” My father, perhaps utilizing the Thespian abilities that had dazzled his philosophy students, let out an anguished, “Oh no!!! What happened???” whereupon the details of Jire’s passing were laid out – a scenario during which there was minimum eye contact among the members of the host family. After our friends had gone, we agreed that under the circumstances, my father’s was not a clean victory, and by the time we all went to bed, he had magnanimously waived the three dollars we owed him.

My father’s antipathy toward dogs was not limited to situations in which he was forced to be in close contact with them. A particular object of dislike was the German Shepherd owned by his neighbor, Sweeny, who himself was not a favorite. Sweeny had made the mistake early on of appearing uninvited in his bathing suit at the edge of my  father’s pond. Sweeny’s house was located at the end of my father’s long driveway, part way up the dirt road that led to the highway. Whenever you drove away from our house you had to Pass Sweeny’s place and brace yourself for the onslaught of the Shepherd, who would come tearing out of the bushes, barking and leaping toward the car. It was indeed unnerving, partly because you knew it was going to happen, like waiting for the toast to pop, and partly because you were afraid you might inadvertently run him over. My mother and sister and I didn’t like it any more than my father did, but we were extremely uneasy when he came back from an errand one day and announced, “I’ve solved the Sweeny dog problem!” To our relief, the solution turned out to be simply that he keep a pile of fire crackers on his dashboard, and as the dog crept out for his attack, my father would light one with his Zippo lighter and toss it out the window as he drove by. After his initial success it took only one more drive-by and detonation for the dog to lie low whenever my father approached. As my mother and sister and I weren’t interested in dealing with incendiary devises while we drove, we continued to endure the annoyance of the dog. One day, however, I was low on gas and borrowed my father’s car to go to the market. My stomach muscles tightened as I approached Sweeny’s place, but the dog took one look at the car and did an immediate about-face, slinking away with his tail between his legs. When I got back and reported this to my father, he was pleased with the carry-over effectiveness of his method, but seemed slightly deflated that the dog’s fear was based solely on the car, rather than on his intimidating presence. He did grudgingly admit that the car recognition on the part of the dog indicated a certain amount of intelligence—an attribute he had never been willing to ascribe to the dog’s owner, Sweeny.

My father’s attempts to control his environment were occasionally thwarted by creatures other than dogs and deer. One evening when my parents came home after a party, they were greeted with the sight of a large raccoon in the middle of the dining table, making a meal of the fruit decoratively assembled in a glass-stemmed bowl at the table’s center. It had apparently entered through the special door my father had rigged up for our cat. The cat, who was never allowed on the table, was sitting off to the side on the rug, observing this tableau with what my parents claimed was an unmistakable smile, anticipating the punishment she knew awaited the raccoon.

A wild chase ensued, with my father shouting, “Scram, beat it!” and the raccoon running with fructose paws all over the chairs and the couch, in every direction but toward the door opening onto the deck. By the time my father succeeded in getting it out, there were juice stains on every surface, and the only vestige of contentment was on the part of the cat, who followed the raccoon out, perhaps feeling that this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Several weeks later, it was the deer who were again to be my father’s bete noir, when he spied two of them at the far side of the meadow, gnawing at his andromeda bushes. When he went to the garage to get a cherry bomb he discovered that he had run out. Thinking quickly, he grabbed the covers of two tin garbage cans, and using them as cymbals, tore across the field clashing them and wildly shouting at the deer. As my mother and sister and I looked on from the deck, the deer glanced up at my father, turned to look at each other, looked back at my father and resumed peacefully munching.

Jean Venable was a writer/producer for NBC Network News in New York City for 25 years. Married, one son, seven stepchildren. Recently published in (upcoming April 2014) and A Narrow Fellow, Journal of Poetry.

If You Listen Close Enough, You Can See by Jos O'Connell

There is an old man that comes and sits in his car on the hill top overlooking Lake Alan every Tuesday night.  I know this because that overlook, up the hill, by the power lines is where I like to meet Jennifer when everyone else has fallen asleep.  Lake Alan is a beautiful stretch of water, but by moonlight, when the wind dies down and the groups of distant voices reveal themselves by the popping fires of the shoreline; it becomes mesmeric.  

I swore this spot to myself, but the night that Jennifer finally let me kiss her, I broke that promise in an instant boyish daze.  I begged her, with her wanting eyes and effortless glances, to come spend the night with me up at the power lines.  She knew that I had a spot that I kept for myself and the instant that I let her in her eyes grew and she smiled big and kissed me on the forehead.  Since then we have met up here almost every night since.  It was when our meetings grew so consistent that I first noticed the old man each week. 
One night in October, as the leaves were just starting to drop, I found myself in conversation with the old man.  The night was chilly and he invited me into his car to sit while I waited for Jennifer.  I was hesitant at first as I worried that Jennifer may not see me and turn back, but he assured me that it would be okay, and for some reason I believed him.  We spoke for a while. 

“If you had three wishes, and you could wish for anything, what would it be?” he asked me after some time.

I was hesitant to answer such a question to a stranger, but I felt a peculiar comfort in the company of the old man.  After some thought I answered him; “I would take all of the sickness and all of the pain that my younger sister ever felt and I would destroy it, and I would bring her back so that my Mother could feel whole again.”

I looked over at the man but he continued on his cigar as if I had said nothing.  He continued to scan the dark horizon of Lake Alan with a half-smile, studying each bend and break in the distant shoreline; as if he were recalling memories from a time long since passed.

“And your third wish?”

This one I knew instantly, for the thought had wrapped my mind like a plague for the past few weeks; “I wish that I could take the feeling that I had on the first night that Jennifer gave herself to me, and I wish that I could know it each time that I ever loved a woman ever again.  I don’t know that Jennifer will always have me, but I want that feeling, I have to have that feeling.”

The car was still and smoky and the wind rattled the leaves around us, if you listened close enough you could hear the hum of the power lines overhead.  The old man pulled the cigar from his mouth and brushed his palms across his eyes; this time he turned and faced me.

“I know that I am just an old man to you, and I trust that you have been hearing me as we have spoken, but for what I am about to tell you I need you to listen.”

He went on, “Jennifer will love you and relish you like a prize.  She will be so intrigued and absolutely captivated by you, that she will begin to beg your Mother to teach her how to treat you as she does.  She will even think of putting off school and following you as you go off to play ball at State—which you will do, just like you and your Father always wanted.  She will want to change her life to make it your life, but you will ruin this.  By giving into weakness and temptation you will lose Jennifer, and that feeling that you wished so badly to have back; you will never have again.

“And your Mother; the only woman who ever truly understood you, your best friend, and your biggest supporter—you will lose her too.  When you are twenty-one, while you are bombed off in some bar hundreds of miles away, her heart will stop and she will lose life and fall to the ground, and in an instant, everything will change.  Just like she always warned you of when you treated her wrong.”

However grand these things were, it didn’t feel wrong to listen to this old man.  My heart wasn’t racing, and I was not scared—I was rather peaceful--not questioning or panicked.  It hurt to hear these things said aloud, and I couldn’t bear the pain of imagining them as true, but I listened on and stared forward onto the surface of Lake Alan as it played back and forth with the moon.

“Go on, please go on, I am listening,” I reassured him.

“What do you think of the world, boy?  How old are you?”

“I am seventeen.”

“What do you think of the world right now?  What does it mean to you?”

“I think that I am meant, I mean I have always kind of felt that, I am bound for something higher—something bigger and better.  I think that I am well-grounded and motivated and that if I keep myself centered and stay out of trouble then I can really do something special.”

The man exhaled and then pulled back in on the end of his shrinking cigar, “I did not ask what you think of yourself, did I?  What do you think of the world?  Of us here?”

The question troubled me and I struggled to keep my sense of comfort.  I sat up in the seat and rubbed my hands down the legs of my jeans; “Well, um, I don’t know why we are here, but I know that, well I have been taught that, if you show the right Faith, the right Love, and the right Gratitude, then the grander plan can work out for you as it should, as it is all happening for a reason.”

“If I told you that you were going to live beyond sixty, and then I put this car into gear and let us roll down off of the big hill into the Lake, would you let me?  Would you stay in the car?”

My palms grew sweaty again and I sat up as tall in my seat as I could and tried to peer down the steep hill.

“Um, you know, I . . . I don’t know.  I mean would I get hurt, what if I got hurt and then what if I couldn’t play in the Fall, I mean I don’t kn--.”

“Fear,” the old man said cutting me off, “Fear of falling, fear of death, fear of affecting this existence that you think is so well planned—you will lose that.  Just as you will lose all of the faith, love, and gratitude feelings that you now imagine are so near and dear to your happiness and health.”

“Six months after you lose your Mother, you are going to find it hard to breathe some nights.  You will drink until you don’t wake up during the daylight and your friends will try to care at first, but they will all forget.  Seven months after, you will start to stop calling family and every time you get into a car you will pray the one passing you the other way smashes you into a crumpled pile of steel.  Eight months in you will start to thank God for each day that ends because it will be one more day closer to the imminent conclusion of, what you will come to know as, wanting-death.”

“Listen to me," he said looking me square in the eye, "If you can get through this, if you can manage to keep your head above water in this time," He took one last pull from his cigar and mashed it into the ashtray, "I promise you that things will get better, I promise you that you will change."

"Just hang on." 

Jos O'Connell is a man and these are his words.  He writes for his Mother and he writes for his Sister. It is his hope that if he writes enough, they will hear him, wherever they are.

The Wanderer by Vito Racanelli

George wore his favorite suit, his only suit, for the interview. It was brown corduroy. He’d owned it for years, though he hadn’t much call to use it. It had been in style before The Collapse.

His counselor, Andrea, from Back on Your Feet Each Day!, said not to be nervous. He hadn’t had a job in a long time but still he wasn’t nervous.

Mrs. Rose Landry met him on the 24th floor. He’d been told it was a bank, but there were no tellers. It wasn’t even on the first floor, so he wondered how customers would be able to get their money. But they might give him a job so he didn’t ask any questions.

“George Willoughby,” she said with a smile, but also as a question.

“Yes,” he said and smiled back.

She was older, slim and well dressed. She had on a black pantsuit and wore a lot of make up. It must take her a lot of time to do that, he thought.

“Follow me,” she said, and they walked into a giant room full of people, mostly men, sitting at dozens of desks, each with three or four blinking computer screens. Many of them were barking into their phones, as if there was something wrong with the phones. No one paid attention to George or Mrs. Landry.

“This is the trading room,” she said. Once you start working you’ll be coming through here a lot. Don’t get to close to the animals, though.”

George laughed but he didn’t know what she meant. He looked for animals but saw none. They went down a long corridor, until they reached a scratched up metal double door. Mrs. Landry stopped, opening one of the doors wide enough for George to peek into the room too.

“Mr. Fallon, I have George from BYFED,” she said.

George couldn’t see him but he saw a few older men working at tables, sorting mail. It looked like fun and that was what he wanted to do, too. He hoped they would give him the job.

“I’ll be 15 minutes. OK?” Mr. Fallon said.

“He’ll be in Room A,” Mrs. Landry said. She turned to George. “He’s going to be your new boss,” she said with a smile. “He’s nice.”

George smiled too.

She put him in a small conference room with a view of the Hudson, and asked him if he wanted a coffee or water. George wasn’t thirsty but said he needed to use the men’s room.

Standing in the doorway, she said, “Down the hall, third door on the right,” and pointed the direction.

After she left, George rose and moved down the hall toward the men’s room. He saw people, mostly women, in glass walled cubicles looking at him and smile. He smiled back.

He passed another conference room, Room B, and saw two people in there, one, a very pretty woman sitting at the table and working a laptop, and another, a man in a shiny blue suit, very close to the door. The man seemed nervous and expectant.

When the man saw George stop for a moment at the door, his eyes brightened.

“Mr. Willoughby?” he said.

“Yes,” George answered, surprised that the man knew his name. He thought maybe this was Mr. Fallon.

Immediately, he came out of the room to shake George’s hand. “Bill Struther, from Struther Software. Good to finally put a face with a voice. I’m so glad you made some time for us. Hope we’re not too early,” he said, still shaking George’s hand vigorously. The man had on a big smile, very wide, and pulled George into the room.

George looked back in the direction of Room A and wondered about this. The man, however, would not let go.

“Take the head of the table and we’ll get started,” Bill said.

George sat. The woman, he noticed, also had on a lot of make up. But it looked better on her. He didn’t know why. She wore a green dress and smiled at him.

“Maggie. Maggie Lister,” she said, extending her hand. “Director of marketing.”

George shook it.

“I love your suit,” she said. “It’s so Mad Men.”

George said, “Thank you.”  He didn’t think he was mad.

She hit some keys on the computer and the large screen in the far corner came to life. There were a lot of colorful graphs on it.

Bill spoke, using a red dot pointer. The software they were offering would save George’s department hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as man hours.

George didn’t understand “man hours,” but he nodded his head anyway. It sounded like a good thing.

Andrea had told him to be polite and nod his head a lot to get the job.

After about 20 minutes, Bill, who’d been talking the whole time—though George didn’t really understand most of it—finished.

“What do you think?” Bill asked.

“I like it,” George said, smiling. “Very much.”

“Great,” Bill said. “That’s really great. You’re not going to regret this,” and he came over to shake George’s hand again. He and Maggie seemed happy, and George was happy at that too.

Just then, Mrs. Landry walked by quickly. She stopped abruptly and moved to the door. “There you are.”

“Yes,” George said.

Mrs. Landry looked at Maggie and Bill. They seemed confused.

“George is here to see about a mailroom job,” she said to them. “I’ll have to collect him now.”

“Oh,” Maggie said. She smiled and seemed embarrassed. She looked away. Bill said nothing but his face got red. He slumped down into a seat opposite Maggie.

Mrs. Landry brought George back to Room A, where Mr. Fallon was waiting.

“Hi, George,” he said, shaking George’s hand.

“We’ve been having an adventure,” Mrs. Landry said to Mr. Fallon, with eyebrows raised, not looking at George.

“Everything ok?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes,” George said.

“Well,” Mr. Fallon said, his fingers tapping the table. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

Vito Racanelli's short fiction has been published in The Literarian and The Boiler Literary Journal and performed at Liar’s League NYC at KGB’s. He is a 2013 Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Story Prize finalist and a participant in the 2013 Pen World Festival. He's currently working on a book of short stories and recently finished a novel about a terrorist attack that took place 30 years ago in Italy, where he lived for four years. 

Secrets (at sixty) by George Bishop

When the day’s finished
coming apart, I kick what’s empty

all the way to bed, or stand
and stare through the eyes of a penny

in plain view of the penniless
in me. Sleep and sleeplessness—

they’ve set aside their differences,
forged a peace bled of secrets.

Such things can no longer survive
in short lives and solitudes. So,

tell me what is was you wanted
to share when you knew nothing

was sacred to me, when I was drunk
on differences. What to do with

the confessions of one day
except to believe them until

it’s time not to believe them.
It’s time not to believe them—

my ghosts are listening, they know
you’ll say it some other way.

It’s the only way to keep it
a secret, from coming apart.

George Bishop’s work has appeared in The Commonline Journal and New Plains. Forthcoming work will be featured in FLARE.  Bishop won the 2013 Peter Meinke Prize at YellowJacket Press for his sixth chapbook “Following Myself Home”. He attended Rutgers University and now resides in Saint Cloud, Florida.

Two Poems by Frank de Canio

"Passing Muster"  

You glowed in Shakespeare’s Measure play with art
enough to make me wish you were my wife.
And yet you parlayed Isabella’s part,
as supplicant to save your brother’s life,
to Caesar’s Antony. How fast you’d slough
off femininity in your pursuit
of leadership. Nor would I give you guff
if I’d been Brutus poised to prosecute
his doomed campaign. So when you rendered meek
Cordelia in Lear, as soft as fluff,
it fascinated me that you could pique
my sensibilities, thus, off the cuff,
as Antony. And no more than your bluff
in simulating prowess seemed enough.

"Spirited Advance"

Forget the  bossa nova, galliard,
or women led by partners in a dance.
It’s more exciting when a gal, en garde
while fencing, chooses a proactive stance.
For then a guy’s not forced to press his suit,
or feint and parry to secure a match.
He just need raise his blade up in salute
in order to be privy to a snatch
of agency from an abortive fray.
And while most men prefer a solid hit
with penetrating thrusts of their epee,
a fencer who would rather coast than boast,
scores better with a woman’s strong riposte.

Frank de Canio was born & bred in New Jersey, works in New York. He loves music of all kinds, from Bach to Dory Previn, Amy Beach to Amy Winehouse, World Music, Latin, opera. Shakespeare is his consolation, writing his hobby. He likes Dylan Thomas, Keats, Wallace Stevens, Frost, Ginsburg, and Sylvia Plath as poets.

Two Poems by Jessica Williams

"Tangerine Peace"

 In my youthful hubris I was apt to think
that the self was the epitome of all this
substance that I was no Socrates to decipher.
And yet while I was on the brink,
on once another dizzying gyration of my
private samsara-of-sorts,
befallen again by some wearisome blow,
I crumbled like breadcrumbs falling,
falling from the fingertips of fate.
Lost in myself, a sea of doubt and my own
Charybdis rising to piece apart my ego
one ravenous mouth after another.
This dissonance was never my aim
but somehow I will catch myself leaning
toward gratitude, for every arrow slung
while my fortress grew weaker still.
But a tangerine peace quells the thought
That I had suffered any injustice,
and had I never broken down so completely,
I may have never found this placidity,
a glowing a candle in my darkest chambers,
the loss of self in a selfish world.

"The Fog Commands"

The fog is thick, verging on oppressive.
Its limbs reach out, ever extending
into buildings, and trees, and people...

The scent, delicate, faintly surfacing a memory that,
like the fog, is too transparent to grasp.

It is quiet; serene becomes too void a word to explain
how the fog commands beauty to hang in the air,
to mottle greens and yellows and reds,
to settle among us, in this dewy solitude.

Jessica Williams is a sophomore residing in humble Elkins, WV. She is pursuing a B.A. in English, alongside minors in education and psychology. She enjoys poring over literature, running Cross-Country, and occupying a lonesome table for one—breakfast hours only.

all that glitters by Jennifer MacBain-Stephens

I saw a sparkly backpack in front of me and didn’t know where to turn.  The canvas was black but consumed by clear gemstones two inches in diameter from top to bottom and side to side. It was bedazzled, one might say, up the wazoo. I did not even notice who was carrying it. Maybe she had auburn hair.  I did not know whether to run from it or run to it. Oh to molest it with my fingertips- to touch something bumpy and glitzy and cheap and expensive at the same time. I had wandered into a crazy zirconia dream or nightmare.  I don’t think this backpack just held homework or lunch or important files. I think it communicated with things that made crop circles. I think it found lost children. I think it helped stalled engines and donated to charities.  I think it detected spyware. I think it knew Morse code and sign language and was probably interviewed by NPR as the next big thing.  But be careful, even in two seconds I knew it was capable of murder. That was clear. There was darkness in this sack that baby deer fled from. Have mercy on you if your arms fell asleep carrying this sick caked thing. It walked away from me in the end.  It went right and I went left, glittering in the sun light, blinding me, nudging me into a candy coated sparkly wasteland.

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens received a B.A. and a B.F.A. from New York University and currently calls the Midwest home. She has poems published in Superstition Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Red Savina Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Burningwood Literary Journal, The Apeiron Review, Dead Flowers: A Poetry Rag, Star 82 Review, Thirteen Myna Birds, Rufous City Review, Squalor Review, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Untitled with Passengers, Gravel Magazine, Sein und Werden, The New Poet, Scapegoat Review, Menacing Hedge, and Iowa City’s 2013 Poetry in Public Project. 

Things to Do Before an Apocalypse by Scott Volz

Forget the bucket lists:

We’re talking bunker lists—
predictions of The End more regular
than a man who takes his Metamucil.

True, theories thus far have been
as wrong as the weather man,
but I’d say it’s wise to prepare
when zombies are no longer a dark horse.

There are practical things—
in case you’ve got survivor stitched
in your DNA.

          Learn to like canned food and not showering.
          Start reading science fiction so you know
          of wastelands—the earth cooked like a kebob
          left overnight on the grill.

If you’ve any hope for a future,
you’ll have to fight. Who knows what
will be left beneath the burning sky.
Mole-people? Mutants? It could be
just you and the environmentalists—
and they won’t be a cheery lot.

          So trade your Xbox for kickboxing
          and shift acronyms: PBS to NRA.

But more than anything,
before the badness comes to blow—

          tell the one you love that desire will burn
          after solar flares scorch the earth,
          that the holocaust would be greater   
          if hearts flipped like magnetic poles.

          Say you’ll be Adam to a damned race
          so long as she is Eve, carrying on the sin
         of Eden when the only birds are crows.
          Because she makes you crazier
          than the Jesus freaks trumpeting revelation,
          than the dictators at home and abroad.

Scott Volz graduated with a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Evansville in 2008. He lives in Evansville, Indiana.

Thinking About God by Peter Schaller

Is it wrong to think about God
when you’re lying
on a bed in a cheap motel room
with a heart recessed
into the ceiling, and an enormous
mirror on the wall?

She is younger than you
but old enough to want
to be there.
You are old enough to know
that you should avoid
cheap motels.

Her weight on top of you
keeps you from floating away,
or running
or simply disappearing
into a less organized
collection of matter.

You tell yourself
this will be the last time
but it’s not the first time
you’ve had that thought.

Instead, your thoughts wander
to God
or Buddha or Allah or Krishna or…
and how you should be walking barefoot
on the path towards enlightenment.
But you have chosen
this narrow street, littered
with broken illusions.

Managua, Nicaragua
7 December 2012

Peter Schaller is an activist and artist who lives and works in Nicaragua. His work has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Jelly Bucket, Alligator Juniper, La Brújula and Soul Lotus.

Two Poems by Charles Thielman

"Layer Ink Over Caesura"

Caught shooting the sun’s tangent
through the smoked filters
of his instrument,
his gaze bores inside flame.

He postcards thoughts
across created distance,
heart to soul, his fingerprints
all over his vase of fragments.

Petitioning the muse with ink, he vectors
a tonic inside an age-spotted hand,
inside pulse, craft attaching its arteries
onto shadow edge as twilight slips out of roots.

He imagines his hilltop bench
a captain’s chair facing the horizon’s mirage,
soft wind rippling dead calm, driftwood waiting
for a tide, the ambiguous privilege of being

perceptive inscribing sharp notes,
stanza to stanza, as chaos riptides closer.
An old dream hangs like incense above
his yellow vase. He layers ink over

each caesura,
some distance from leaving
his scars to the weight of stones.
Sky bearing a red and gold canvas west.

"A Painting, An Early Morning Walk, and All the People"

Faces of this age, inbound,
transit under city towers.

          Tip of paintbrush inside canvas rivers.

My eyes wander in a white sky,
drawn as human
to our magnetic stutter,
hands in pockets.
          Distant jackhammers cube the air.

Trees wanting a wet gray shine,
the strokes of a sable brush
lay cart tracks down on
canvas gravel, through pools of water
reflecting November overcast
and the skies of a seagull's cry.

          Let the vandals worship their statues.

At the bus-stop,
I stand back and watch
children make churches with their hands.

Charles Thielman was born and raised in Charleston, S.C., moved to Chicago, educated at red-bricked universities and on city streets. He has enjoyed working as a truck driver, city bus driver and enthused bookstore clerk. Married on a Kauai beach in 2011, he is a loving Grandfather for five free spirits.