Potluck

 

T H I S    W E E K

WATERSLIDES IN AUXILIARY HOSPITAL WASHROOM by Daniel Thompson

 

In The Lemon-Rind Light

 

 The most tragic thing I’ve ever seen was this girl named Ella standing by a window, accidentally wearing a choker of sunlight across her neck, and holding a crumbled poppyseed muffin in her hands.

 I know that there are sadder things, but outside of myself and everything else, that glimpse of someone’s named darling standing in strangled sunlight cupping something half-edible and half-decimated in her small palms moved tides in me. 

She probably wasn’t sad, and I wasn’t sad, but the light and the air and her sun-given jewelry all coaxed me into a casual despair. 

You don’t have to understand it, (I definitely don’t) but it happened and I like to think it’s still happening somewhere to someone.

Someone is looking at a soft fruit of light ripening on a stranger’s skin and they are making up a tragedy to put there, just to see one, just to get by for a little while longer until there’s a more rational sadness to bite into. 

 

 

Claire Oleson is a writer who was born and raised in Grand Rapids Michigan under the loving and intriguing watch of two married psychotherapists. More of her work can be found here: http://tangerineinklings.tumblr.com/ 

Bachelorette for Life

It started in eighth grade, much to the chagrin of her parents. Boys in high school started asking Roslyn for dates. And Roslyn would tell them they would have to ask her father. And he always said no.

“You’re too young to go out with boys, Roslyn,” he would say. “On that subject, your mother and I completely agree. Wait till you’re older.” 

In high school, young men in college discovered Roslyn and they too asked her out. She would tell them that although she was allowed to date boys in high school now, her parents wouldn’t let her go out with college “men,” as her mother called them.

“College men are too old for you, Roslyn,” her mother said more than once and twice her father chimed in with his one-word agreement. 

“Amen!"

When Roslyn went to college, some of the graduate assistants and young assistant professors wanted to date her but she was a pre-medical student and she hit the books hard. When she did go on a date, it was usually for pizza and a movie with some young man in the same year as she, someone she liked as a person but had no mad crush on. 

Roslyn wanted to be a doctor, an eye specialist, with a concentration on retinal diseases because her father once came home from an eye examination to report that his eye doctor had discovered two tears in his right retina and had used a laser to repair them. Roslyn was impressed by the good the doctor had accomplished and she wanted to make the same difference in other people’s lives.

In medical school she had to study very hard. Roslyn was as bright as she was beautiful but medical school was the first time she had to buckle down academically. Previously she had earned good grades without working too hard. There was very little time in medical school to date although once again some younger professors tried hard to take her out. She always hoped her refusals wouldn’t affect her grades and she felt that her grades invariably were those she had earned. She had a knack for telling aspiring suitors “no” without offending them.

After medical school, she had to serve an internship that required long, unpredictable hours. Again, many doctors, single and otherwise, wanted to date her but Roslyn would have nothing to do with married men and she didn’t meet a single doctor she really liked. She explained this to her parents on trips home as well as to her girl friends from high school, many of whom were now married with children, who had thought Roslyn would be the first among them to marry and settle down.

When she went on to graduate work in the study of the eye, Roslyn found she had to study even harder. She didn’t date at all for fear of falling behind. What free time she had she spent watching television and eating pizza delivered from a nearby restaurant. She felt closer to her television set than she did to any man she had met so far. No question she liked men. But the right one had so far failed to distract her from her studies and goals in life.

Back home, her parents, once very concerned their daughter would date the wrong boy at too young an age, began now to worry they might never become grandparents. And her girl friends started questioning her as to when she was going to settle down. Some of them were downright nosy. Others wanted to fix her up. She politely refused all the help she was offered.

“First,” she told them, “I have to establish my practice and then I’ll have time to concentrate on finding the right guy. He’s out there, I’m sure. I’m 27 now and I want to have at least three children so I better get a move on.”

In two years Roslyn had quickly established an excellent practice. She had appointments booked months in advance. Other doctors referred especially difficult retina problems to her because she excelled in using the laser for making repairs. She was now a successful doctor but still as single as ever with no potential husband in sight.

The years went by and Roslyn became more and more successful and even dated decent men now and then. She found one man very interesting but he did not share her interest in public television and classical movies. Like many men he had an interest in sports events and was always changing the channel to some game. Roslyn liked sports and had played volleyball in high school and college but watching sports on TV held little interest for her. She liked to compete and she was too old now to play in any games.

Her father was the first to die without becoming a grandparent and two years later her mother passed away without any grandchildren. Roslyn was still steadfastly practicing medicine and was again ordering pizza in and watching television in her few hours of spare time. She had almost stopped dating because at age 48 she knew children were likely out of the question and she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life watching the Game of the Week. 

She took time out, however, to return to her hometown for the 30th anniversary of her high school graduation. She was surprised to see how many of her old classmates now had either a little or a lot of gray hair. Some men had paunches and many of the women were bigger than they had ever thought they would be. Bearing children can do that to a woman. Roslyn, however, was still slim and beautiful and gray hairs had yet to appear.

Most of her old girl friends had given up quizzing her as to why she had never married. But on the night of their class reunion she shared a table and a few bottles of wine with her three closest friends. One of them was a bit tipsy and leaned forward and looked Roslyn in the eye and asked,

“Roz, why the hell are you still single? Men forever have been chasing you. You’ve had a chance to meet some of the nicest men out there. And you’re still a bachelorette. Why?”

Roslyn was very sober as always and she took a minute to formulate her answer. She wanted to settle the issue once and for all. Finally she laid it on the table between the wine bottles and glasses.

“Ladies, I have met a lot of nice men but I have studied too hard and worked too hard to give up my remote.”

Two of the women laughed and one of them raised her glass and proposed a toast to liberation and possessing one’s own remote. Her husband had been in charge of their remote now for 26 years. He put it down, however, to father six wonderful children. She’d like to have her own remote but she preferred her children by a long shot. 

The tipsy girlfriend who had asked the question just shook her head in fake despair and gave Roslyn a skosh of too-late advice that had worked for her.

“By now you can afford to buy another one. I bought two in case my husband loses his between the cushions and wants to borrow mine."

Roslyn knew she could afford to buy a second remote. But that wouldn’t have helped her find the right man. He simply never appeared. At the moment, however, she was happy because now the quiz about why she was a bachelorette was finally over. And, frankly, she couldn’t wait to get home and watch “Gone with the Wind” for perhaps the 14th time. She certainly would have lent Clark Gable her remote for an evening or two at least. 


Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He writes poetry and fiction. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com.
 

Waiting for Goldbar

          If you were in town last Spring, you may have seen one of the flyers announcing the unveiling of a recently discovered Madonna and child. The unveiling was to take place on April 1st at high noon on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
          And sure enough, in front of a huge crowd, a large oil painting of Madonna and Child was unveiled. The crowd gasped, and then quickly broke into great cheers. There were the two of them in radiant color – the singer, Madonna, and the cooking diva, Julia Child. 
          The mastermind of this historical event was my friend, Arnie Goldbar, perhaps the city’s greatest punster. It was he who thought up the pun, convinced an artist friend to paint it, and then managed to lure thousands of onlookers to the unveiling. “And,” he pointed out, “I got them there on April Fool’s day!” 
           Arnie’s day job was actually in public relations. While he was truly a PR genius,  he was also extraordinarily lazy. Indeed, despite his great originality and creativity, he was invariably dismissed from every job he ever held. 
          When he was hired by the New York State Department of Labor, I predicted not only why he would get fired, but when. “How can you possibly make that prediction?” he asked. “The job doesn’t even start till Monday.”
          “Arnie! I know you! Guaranteed, you will be late on Monday morning.”
          On Monday evening, Arnie called me. “I just wanted to let you know that you were wrong. Remember what you predicted?”
          “Yeah, that you would be late on your first day.”
         “Do you remember your exact prediction?”
         “Of course! “ I said, “You will be late on Monday morning.”
         “I wasn’t!”
         “I don’t believe it!”
         “Well, you were wrong! I didn’t get there till after lunch.”
         Within a couple of weeks he was getting almost daily warnings from his boss about his chronic lateness. But Arnie was quite confident that he had solved the problem by constructing a colorful bar graph. Anyone could spot the trend: His daily lateness over the two-week period had declined almost steadily, and was now barely over two hours. 
          “So Arnie,“ I asked, “how did your boss respond to your chart?”
          “He loved it!”
         “Really?”
         “Yeah, he liked the colors.”
         “What about all your latenesses?”
         “Now those he didn’t like so much.”
         Arnie, of course, continued to come in late, and he kept making charts for his boss. Finally, one day his boss warned him that if he was late one more time, he would be fired.
         The next morning, he was an hour late. 
         “What did your boss say to you?”
          “Luckily I had just made another chart for him. And even though I was late that day, I still got to the office 15 minutes earlier than the day before.”
        “So what did he say?”
        “I told you, Steve. He liked my chart.”
        “What were his exact words?”
        “Well, his exact words were, ‘Coming in late right after I gave you that warning was like spitting in my face!’”
          That afternoon Arnie was fired. But he never saw it coming. After all, his average daily lateness had fallen to a record low. And whatever anyone else might say, the average daily lateness charts don’t lie. 

Did Arnie have a favorite PR pun? Yes! It’s the one he did for one of the Liberal Party’s annual fundraising dinners. He and his wife, both officials of the party, had been separated for many years. And yet, they would be sitting together at the dinner. 
              Before we go any further, do you remember the old aphorism, “Politics makes strange bedfellows”? Well here’s the headline Arnie came up with for the press release he wrote for the dinner: “Politics mates estranged bedfellows.”   
            The best PR job Arnie had ever had was working in the Mayor’s Office for the Handicapped. Years later, when he was being interviewed on a public access TV show, he fondly recalled those days.

Interviewer: Tell us, Arnie, what was the greatest PR coup you ever pulled off?
Arnie: There is no question that it was the time when the Mayor’s Office for the Handicapped fired this poor woman who happened to be a quadriplegic. They gave her virtually no notice. 
Interviewer: That’s awful! So what did you do?
Arnie: Well, they claimed it was because of budget cuts, but in those years, with all the federal grants pouring in, the city had more money than it knew what to do with. The bottom line was that the poor woman was out of work. 
Interviewer: OK, so you were doing PR for that agency. Firing that woman sounds like pretty bad public relations.
Arnie: It was! 
Interviewer: So wasn’t your job to make the Mayor’s Office for the Handicapped look good?
Arnie: Of course. But there was no way the agency could look good firing a handicapped woman. 
Interviewer: So how did you handle it?
Arnie: Well, I decided to run with the story. I mean, wasn’t this the greatest human interest story of all time? So I called every radio and TV station in the city. And when the access-a-ride van brought her home at 6 pm, there were reporters and cameras set up on her front lawn, on the sidewalk, and all up and down her block
Interviewer: So she must have been on the evening news.
Arnie: Would you believe that she was on every channel that night and the next day?
Interviewer: That’s wonderful, Arnie. So did she end up getting her job back?
Arnie: No, but she got some great publicity.

          For a while Arnie had a very beautiful girlfriend named Marla, who had just finished chiropractic school. They lived in a studio apartment in Brooklyn Heights with a great view of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. While thinking about how he could help Marla start up her practice, Arnie had one of his greatest PR inspirations. “Let’s set up the ‘Bad Back Hotline!’” 
          They would use the phone number 223-2225. Check it out on your phone by matching the letters B-A-D-B-A-C-K with each of these numbers. And what have you got? You’ve got the BAD BACK hotline!
          They managed to get that number from the phone company, but since the exchange, 223, was not in Brooklyn Heights, they would have to pay 50 cents for each forwarded call. 
       I can still recall the recording he made: “You’ve reached the Bad Back Hotline. You don’t need to suffer from back pain any longer. Just leave your name and number and one of our doctors will get right back to you.” 
       Now all that was needed was to publicize the Bad Back Hotline and a flood of people would be calling BADBACK. Since Arnie was the PR guru, he would handle the logistics. He drew up a plan, which called for designing a flyer with a picture of a person doubled over in pain, then get flyers printed up and distributed wherever people with bad backs congregated. 
         But it never happened. Arnie always had great ideas, but as a world class procrastinator, he almost always put off acting upon them. And so, one day, Marla moved out. The Bad Back Hotline never got a call, except, perhaps, the one from me.
        
         Over the years Arnie found it increasingly difficult to find a job. Then he got lucky. His old friend, Sammy, along with a couple of partners, had managed to scrape together enough money to start what they planned to be a bagel bakery and restaurant. They took out a lease on a rather large store on 7th Avenue, the main shopping drag of Park Slope, a gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn. Arnie would do their PR.
      It took him just one day to think up the name for their store-restaurant – We ain’t just bagels! He convinced the three partners that it was the perfect name for their enterprise. The name had attitude, it was edgy, and it let potential customers know that they could buy a whole lot more than just bagels. And best of all, the name was ungrammatical, just like most of Brooklyn once was. 
        As the store’s grand opening approached, Arnie had another great idea. Why not invite the press, the TV and radio stations, and all the local politicians? The lure would be a free sit-down meal and a big bag of bagels to take home. Just imagine all the free publicity this would generate!
        Arnie knew that the idea of giving away free meals went all the way back to the early 1900s when a man named Nathan Handwerker opened a Coney Island hot dog eatery called Nathan’s. To create the impression that his hot dogs were made of top quality meat, he invited the interns at nearby Coney Island Hospital to have free meals – as long as they wore their hospital whites. And his ads, which anticipated Arnie’s own advertising copy, proclaimed that Nathan’s hot dogs were so wonderful that many doctors ate there. 
         The day of the grand opening finally arrived. It would be an invitation-only affair, and the inside and outside of the store were festooned with red, white, and blue ribbons, banners, and balloons, all of which proclaimed, We ain’t just bagels! 
          The invitations called for a noon opening, and because of the huge crowds expected for the free meals, the festivities would go on all day. Among the guests would be Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, a man who was rumored to be even fonder of speaking than of eating. Indeed, he had gone to great lengths to promote Brooklyn’s many promising new eateries. Who knew? He might even be induced to make a speech. 
            Surprisingly, no one had shown up before the stroke of 12. But, of course, who likes to be the first person to arrive? 
            Around 12:30 the owners began to get a little nervous.  And by one o’clock, it had become very clear that something must have gone terribly wrong. Who had been in charge of sending out the invitations? Arnie! 
          “Where the hell is he?” demanded Sammy. “Somebody, call him!”
          A minute later Sammy was told that Arnie’s answering machine had picked up. 
         “OK,” said Sammy.  “I want two guys to go over to his apartment. And take along a sledge  hammer.  If he doesn’t answer, I want you to break down his door!”
         “Are you serious!”
         “You’re damn straight I’m serious! I want you to bring him back here. I need some answers, and I need them right away.”
         An hour later the two guys returned with Arnie. As he stumbled into the store Sammy yelled, “What the hell happened!”
        “I overslept.”
        “I don’t give a shit about your sleep! What happened with the invitations?”
        “Nothing. I mailed them.”
        “You mailed them? When did you mail them?”
        “Well I intended to send them out at the beginning of the week. But then things got delayed.”
       “How long did they get delayed?”
       “Well, till Friday. I did get to the Central Post Office just before they closed at 8 pm.”
       “You schmuck! You mean to tell me that you didn’t mail out the invitations for a Sunday opening until Friday night?”
       “Well, technically it was Friday evening.”
         “I don’t give a technical shit if it was Friday night or Friday evening! You sent out the invitations the day before the event?”
          “Well, technically it was two days before the event. From Friday to Sunday is actually two days.”
         “Get out of here! And don’t ever come back!”

         Arnie looks back fondly on his days with We ain’t just bagels! Deep down he felt that business really had had a great chance to succeed, especially with the creative ideas he’d supplied. It still saddens him that his old friend, Sammy, no longer talks to him. But long ago, Arnie had decided to forgive Sammy. Some people just couldn’t get past certain disappointments. And going bankrupt was a pretty big disappointment. 
         Still, to be completely honest, Arnie realized that there was certainly enough blame to go around. And that the fact that he and Sammy were no longer friends was not entirely Sammy’s fault. “You know,” he once told me in a moment of great candor, “there are times when I do realize that just maybe I played some small role in the demise of We ain’t just bagels!”

 

 

 

A recovering economics professor, Steve Slavin earns a living writing math and economics books.
           

Splitsville

 

"Walls" by Astronomers
After a 2 year break from writing music together, "Walls" proves that Astronomers are still on the same musical page. Lyrically, the song expresses the desire for safety from emotional struggle and the lessons learned through both love and loss. "Walls" has become one of the band's favorite songs to perform live.

"Snooze" by Breakers
Dating back to a January 2011 email from bassist Alex Politis to guitarist/vocalist Lucas Brown, the bones of "Snooze" were laid out long before Breakers were even a thought. Going through multiple incarnations, names, and lyrical subject matter, the track was finally rounded out by the slick chops of drummer Vicente Arroyo and the lightning-in-a-bottle licks of lead shredder Vince Tarrance. "Snooze" is the unofficial prequel to Starland Vocal Band's 1976 smash hit "Afternoon Delight."
 

Artwork: Cosmic Stare, 2015, Thomas Dean 

Thomas Dean is a Crozet, Virginia silk-screen printer, graphic designer, and musician.  He likes thrift shops, records, Xerox, Photoshop, and Jack Kirby.
 

Three Poems

 


Where I Am Right Now
 

I don’t want people to die, but I want the world to burn in a cinematic sense.

I’ve been told I seem kind of gay, as if my sexuality is something I care to convey to
strangers.

I want to be flamboyant for a boy and have that be ok with people.

Same with these things: Sometimes I count plastic stars on my ceiling. 

At mass, I used to envision an escape plan. Usually a rope was involved.

And I am in love with men and women and the profundity of loneliness.

Moral of the story:
I still live with my parents. My dog is buried under a pine tree next to a pine tree.

 

 

 

 

Post-College Blues
 

There’s a movie called It Follows, which is about these kids who, if they catch this
sexually transmitted thing, will be followed by a monster. 

At one point the monster looks like the girl’s father. I was like O HELL NO.

There are multiple killings.

The dead bodies resemble modern art.

I want to be followed by a monster that kindly reminds me to do laundry and then leaves
me alone.

 

 

 


 

Lazy Sunday
 

Today I woke up remembering the time my sixth grade sex-ed teacher tried to describe
how semen feels by comparing it to undercooked egg whites.

Cheerios are dull circles drowning in cow cum.

Fruit loops are Cheerios that smoked hella weed.

It’s now 3:31 pm.

I have no opinions on Cocoa Puffs.

 

 

 

Louis Raymond is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer, book reviewer, and teacher from Biddeford, Maine. He is the author of the e-book Paper Heart (2015, Thought Catalog), and his poems, essays, and stories have been featured in array of places, such as Entropy, The Bicycle Review, Extract(s), Cheap Pop Lit, Ray’s Road Review, and on The Flexible Persona Podcast. This past April, he was named a Martin Dibner Fellow of Fiction Writing. Find him on tumblr.

*l*rd

The following scroll was found buried in the Tel Egot on the present day border of Israel and Syria December 15, 2018.  Because of the dangerous border little archaeology had been done in the area.  The language used is a cross between the Semitic Hebrew and Aramaic languages.  From other sources we can infer that this was an arid area mostly populated by shepherds and vintners.  Despite the frequent wars in the general area, there are few signs of battles in the land of the Eleni. 

 

Due to the similarity to the Israelis society and structure, there is a suggestion that the Eleni may be another tribe of Hebrews, not acknowledged in Biblical sources either because they were expelled from Israel, or left voluntarily.  They may have been Hebrews who did not migrate to Egypt and therefore have no knowledge of Moses and the Penteteuch.  There are enough religous differences to indicate that their national god was not merely a copy of Y*w*h, but their practice of omitting the vowels is similar.  Some see the Eleni as an Amarian people who copied some things from Israel.

 

There were many national gods in the early middle east.  The scrolls give us a look at one that is vastly different than that of the Hebrews.  We wonder what we could learn from the other nation gods of Israel’s small neighbors.  For most of them, we only have reports from Biblical sources.  We can’t help but wonder how history would have changed if the Eleni and their concept of a universal, pacificstic God had surivived and spread.

 

The annotations are based on collateral history and fragmentary scrolls from the same dig.

 

Professor Marcus Jacobs and the Oriental Institute of the University Of Chicago July, 18, 2020

 

                                    THE ANNOTATED BOOK OF *LR*D (1)

THE BEGINNING

 

Before the beginning of time there was light (2).  At the beginning of time the heavens exploded and stars and planets were hurled forth into the void.  After time had passed, the oceans were formed.  Plants and animals grew in the oceans and on the land.  For ages giant serpents swam in the seas and wandered the land.  Man and *lr*d (3), (4) were born.  *lr*d gave dominion over the earth to man (5).

 

THE NATION

 

Men wandered accross the earth from the south.  The followers of *lr*d lived for uncounted years in the land to the East between the rivers (6) after the great floods.  Between the floods the Mekoni ruled the lands around the river and man ceased to wander the land.  The learned people became settled and farmed and worked metal.  In the time of Elgret (7) when war and famine cursed the land, a peaceful leader Manton (8) of the Eleni (9) arose.  He led the Eleni across the rivers and deserts to our rightful land.  For many generations people from the land of the rivers were delivered to the land of the trees (10).

 

For 50 years Manton ruled over the Eleni.  He was a just and peaceful ruler.  The people supplied lumber for the ships of Tyre and Sidon.  The grapes of Elrod were made into wine drunk by Sidonians, Israelis and Philistines.  Life was difficult, but the Eleni survived in peace (11).  Eleni was free of wars because of the law and faith.  *lr*d has condoned neither offending the gods of Israel and Aram, nor taking that which belonged to Israel nor Aram nor Bashan (12).

 

After the migration was completed the calendar began.  The number of the people was 216000 and the year was 1 (13).

 

On the shortest day of the year the priests of *lr*d gave thanks to the sun and to *lr*d.  They would say:  Thank you for your light and may you return to full strength according to your eternal way (14).

 

Before the end of a long life and peaceful rule, Manton left this guide to the people of Eleni (15):

 

         Look after your children, for they will inherit the land.  Children, honor your parents for they have given you the gift of our nation.

 

         Look after the old and infirm because so shall you be some day.

 

         Respect our country and our land, but do not do harm to others.

 

         Remember that our animals support us as we tend to them.

 

         Eat not that which is found dead for it is only fit for vultures.

 

         To take advantage through unfair dealings is to be less than a man.

 

         A man with many vineyards and sheep who is fair and generous is to be honored and respected.

 

         Plant when it is time to plant, reap when it is time to reap, and wage peace year around.

        

         Be true to *lr*d, but respect the gods of other nations, for all gods are god with other names.

        

         You are the dust of stars and the children of *lr*d.

 

Manton died without issue in year 55 (16).

 

The next ruler of the Eleni was Aburod.  He was just and lived modestly.  He collected and stored common food and goods for stortage for lean years and to provide for the unfortunate.  The people were not over taxed and Aburod took only what he needed from his people.  His eldest son Bin Aburod traded in the best Eleni wine for many goods and knew how rulers in the other countries lived.  Bin Aburod was not pleased with one wife, simple clothes and a plain dwelling.

 

One day Aburod and Bin Aburod,  went hunting.  Bin Aburod came back alone and said "My dear father has died from a fall off a cliff.  I will now lead the Eleni."  Sorrow followed his rule.  The year was 90.

 

Bin Aburod married Delok a woman of Syria.  She wanted the finest of clothes and houses.  She abused Bin Aburod's first wife Amia.  To get her what she wanted, Bin Aburod kept less for the unfortunate and more for himself.  When Eleni could not provide for the needs of him and his wife he organized raids on the Eleni clans unrelated to him.  Many of his relatives were no long seen.  Bin Aburod was hated within and without his clan..

 

In the year 103 Bin Aburod was found in his bed with a knife through his heart.  Delok was sent away with what she wore on her back. and was never heard from again.  The next ruler of Eleni was Amalia, Bin Aburod’s sister.  Amalia tried to rule as her late father did, but the Eleni were broken by the acts of Bin Aburod and she ruled in sorrow.

 

Fragment missing; two hundred years may have passed

 

The clan of Dama in the East did not trust in the rule of one man.  A council of elders decided on matters of governance and judgement.  Seven representatives were chosen at first.  If a councilor was lost, the rest would choose a new one.  Dama ignored the ruler of Eleni, but Eleni was too weak to impose its will on the Dama.

 

The Eleni fell into squabbling families and all were poor.

 

Worse was to befall Dama and the rest of the Eleni as the River weakened.  As the years advanced, the river disappeared (17).  Different councilors urged different actions, but they could reach no agreement.  A councilor would say "Dig a canal", but another would say "That is a big job, the river may come back".  A councilor would say "Let us move our dwellings", but another would say "Where can we go"?  The wind now lives in the land of the Eleni and the Eleni have left for the North, South, East and West. (18)

 

(1) They are composed about 610 BCE, but parts may have originated as early as 900 BCE.  The exact  time of the origin of the various chapters cannot be determined.  The original legends may go back as far as 1800 BCE..

 

(2) As did Egypt under Amenhotep IV with Ra, the Eleni apparently worshipped a sun god.  Cf. early Hebrew storm worship.  The early *lr*d god concept evolved over time to be a more personal god. 

 

(3) As in the Hebraic scriptures the name of God is not spoken.

 

(4) Early references to *lr*d are believed to be later redactions by the priests of *lr*d.

 

(5) Certain similarities in the cosmology of *lr*d to those of aboriginal people in the American Northwest, the Phillipines, the China - Burma border and India should be noted.  The apparent similarity to modern theories is difficult to explain.  So far, recent revisions to the scripture have been ruled out.  Some are adamant that such modern ideas prove that the whole tablet is fake, but so far there is no proof.

 

(6) Historical and cultural parallels to the Hebrews are obvious.  It is unclear where the Eleni lived before the great floods.  The relationship between the floods of the Eleni and the singular flood of the Hebrews is unclear at this point.  Both draw from the epic of Gilgamesh.

 

(7) Elgret appears to be one of the semitic kings of Mesopotamia, but we do not have sufficient information to determine which one.

 

(8) A Mantok appears in Mesopotamian texts of circa 900 BCE.  He was a celebrated judge.  He may be Manton.

 

(9) Eleni may have been a nation within Mesopotamia or a collection of people who did not want to live under Elgret.  There is no record of the Eleni in Mesopotamian texts, so the latter may be the prefered theory, or it may be that they were not mentioned because of their unimportance.

 

(10) The original Eleni appear to be a mixed ethnic group based on genetic and blood testing from the oldest villages in the presumed homeland of the Eleni in northern Lebanon, and neighboring Syria and Israel.  The original travelers were believed to be shepherds.  Prior to the occupation by Eleni, the land was probably frequented by Arabs, but not permanently populated.

 

(11) There is little arable land in Eleni, hence the necessity of trading wine, lumber and sheep for some food.

 

(12) The reference to the gods of Israel, Bashan and Aram (Syria) is problematic.  Was Israel polytheistic at the time this was written, and did the Eleni believe that Israel worshipped the Philistine Baals as well as Y*hw*h?  This may have been written during Israeli backsliding.  Part of the survival of Eleni surely must be ascribed to its lack of value to stronger neighbors, including the maritime cities of Phoenicia.  Despite there being no reference to foreign overlords in the early scriptures, we can assume that the Eleni were never truly free, but were left alone subject to minor tribute payments.

 

(13) The number 216,000 is highly questionable.  Early Eleni used the number 60 as a base from its Mesopotamian background.  60 X 60 X 60 = 216,000.  In any case, it is doubtful that the small barren land would support that many people.  It is further suspected that the choice year 1 was inserted in later writings.

 

(14) As with other early agricultural (although more limited than most) societies, Eleni saw the annual plant cycle as life, death and resurection.  Cf. Isis and Osiris.

 

(15) These appear to be thoroughly redacted aphorisms, only some of which date to the time of Manton.  The agricultural one probably dates back to the time the people spent in Mesopotamia.

 

(16) There is no mention of a wife of Manton anywhere.  The generally more libertarian approach of Eleni than its neighbors may be either cause or effect from this fact.  The feminine nature of *lr*d and worship is more pronounced than in the neighboring cultures.  Female rulers and judges are common through the history of Elrod as indicated in other fragmentary documents.

 

(17) Lidar has discovered the buried riverbed of a Euphrates tributary that may be the River referenced in the scroll.  There are various theories about the disappearance of the River.  It may have been from random climate change, the depletion of water by irrigation channels used by the Assyrians or deforestation.

 

(18) The lack of mention of the Babylon Captivity probably indicates that the scroll was completed and the Eleni dispersed before that event. 

Doug Hawley is an experienced writer of short bios and has published longer pieces in Oblong, Wi-Files, Fiction On The Web, The Subtopian, Insert, Short Humour, and Potluck.  When not writing he volunteers at a park and a book store, hikes and snowshoes (not this year, the East got the snow).

Your Dream Body In Just

how did you win your body battle tell me

my body army is a small militia
volunteers, untrained
full of good intentions but a bit dim
they don’t know what the body deserves
they’re afraid of war
ignoring forgetting about it
can’t stop thinking about it
what’s been done to
and not done too
much too much body memory that lasts the longest forever
always carrying it around
so many goddamn cells do you really need to bring so many with you everywhere
just treat it the way it’s been treated
different treatments when one doesn’t work try another
when none works
and your body is on fire
leave your body! no wait
love your body 
stop drop and roll

they don’t know that it
rips open at night
i sew it up
rips open again
i sew it lazy (i don’t know how to sew really)
seams weak
thread’s tired
bodymemory crawls out
all by itself
feral and angry and scared
on top of the fancy glass clock
no warning—
just
ding

dong
 

crack

 

 

 

Maura Hehir is a writer and an adult Directioner. She lives in Brooklyn. You can email her if you want at maura[dot]hehir[at]gmail.com.

Stolen

Chapter 1

It was 1963, a time of storms and huge natural disasters. Sicore, a young 12 year-old had just made his breakfast. He sat down on his broken chair and put down his cracked cereal bowl on a three legged wooden table. Most of his house was destroyed by a severe hurricane.  He was lucky to still have a house though. Most people’s houses had been destroyed completely. Like his friend Rekter. He lost his parents and now lives with his younger sister Crizma. They lived in a camp for people whose houses have been destroyed. Sicore always felt bad for them and occasionally called them to his house to stay for a few nights. Tomorrow they have planned to go to a famous company that builds rockets. The company was called ARGO. Sicore finished his breakfast and left the table to wash his bowl. Suddenly, a huge wind blew. Leaves started swirling and a big tornado formed. Sicore’s house blew away and Sicore fell to the ground hard. Very quickly, big men dressed in army uniforms came. They got hold of Sicore and thaw him into a large truck. The truck drove 120 mph. When it stopped, the rear door opened and Sicore rolled out. He coughed a little and slowly got up. He looked around him and saw a huge sign above him. It said “Camp for the Homeless”. He was in the camp where Rekter lived! Suddenly, Rekter ran up to Sicore and hugged him. It was a very long hug. Finally, when Sicore could breathe again, Crizma came over. She just waived. She had list her voice permanently because she screamed so much when her house was being destroyed.

“Hi Rekter, Hi Crizma” said Sicore. “Today I was thinking about going to ARGO."

“Oh about that” said Rekter “ARGO was destroyed yesterday, but there is a hurricane proof bus that leaves in 20 minutes. We could go see the ruins.”

“Sure” said Sicore.

Twenty minutes later a large, silver metal bus arrived at the camp. A person who didn’t look human stepped out of the bus. He wore large blue shades and a captain’s hat. His craggy shirt had torn sleeves, his fading jeans looked almost normal. He looked down at Rekter.

“Well, give me the seven bucks," said the bus driver, annoyed. Rekter looked in his pockets. “I only have three," he said.

The bus driver groaned. “Too bad for you, NEXT!” Sicore looked in his pockets. He pulled out four dollars.

“I’ve got four bucks!” he told Rekter.

“Great! That means we have got seven dollars!” said Rekter.

Sicore and Rekter gave the driver his money. “Get on you slow pokes!” he said. Sicore, Rekter, and Crizma all got on the bus.  No one else seemed to want to get on to the bus, so the driver took off. He started the bus but thirty seconds later, he stopped. Rekter looked out the window. “But this isn’t ARGO” he said.

“Too bad, I’m not going any further” the driver shouted.

Sicore and Rekter dragged themselves out of the bus. Crizma followed. She didn’t seem that sad. Sicore, Rekter, and Crizma started walking. Fifteen minutes into the walk, the ground beneath them began to shake. The ground started to crack, and a hole formed beneath them.

Chapter 2

“Cough! Cough!”  Sicore, Rekter, and Crizma got up.

“What happened?” asked Sicore.

“How would I know?” exclaimed Rekter. They got up and looked around. They were on a basketball court, and they couldn’t even see the hoops.  The court was never ending. Suddenly, a small hut appeared. Rekter went inside to ask for help. Sicore and Crizma followed. They saw a ten foot man cooking elephant legs.

“Excuse me?”

“Chomp! Chomp! Oh you are here already?” asked the ten foot man.

“I’m sorry?” said Rekter. “You weren’t supposed to come until noon!” said the ten foot man. “Say what now?” asked Sicore.

“I sent you here,” said the ten foot man.

“Ok, let me get this straight, you wanted us to come here?” asked Rekter.

“Yes, Yes. I sent my number 1 assistant to get you. Quite a grumpy fella isn’t he?” said the ten foot man.

“Why did you send us here?” asked Rekter. “To get the pearl” said the ten foot man.

“The pearl, seriously? Is this some kind of joke?” said Sicore. ‘Oh you like jokes? I have got a good one! What do you call a --- “said the ten foot man. “Ok, let’s not go there” interrupted Sicore. “What exactly do you mean by, the pearl?” asked Sicore. “Well, you’ve noticed all of the huge natural disasters right?” asked the ten foot man. “Umm, yeah!” said Sicore. “Do you know why they are happening?” asked the ten foot man.  “Umm, no!” said Rekter.” They are happening because, a three headed sea monster stole a pearl from Mount Revtana. That pearl is what keep the world safe” said the ten foot man. “Well why did you send us here?” asked Rekter. “Because you have a special power, and if you succeed this mission, not only will you save the world, but you will unleash your power.”

Chapter 3

“Where is the pearl?” asked Rekter.

“It’s in a place called The Deadly Trench” said the ten foot man.

“How do we get there?” asked Sicore. “Easy! Just go through this portal!” The ten foot man pulled a lever and a large bluish greenish hexagon appeared Crizma got excited. Very quickly, she jumped into the portal. The ten foot man yelled “Nooo!” He yelled because it was dangerous for a young child to go to The Deadly Trench alone. Even for a few seconds. “You better get in there or the sea monster will get dinner early”. Sicore and Rekter jumped into the portal. When they landed, Sicore and Rekter knew they were in The Deadly Trench. There were huge boulders and rocks everywhere. There were large water falls of crystal clear water falling everywhere. Sicore heard a small screech. It was the monster holding Crizma. For some reason, each head was wearing a name tag.

The first one said “Hello! My name is Dare!” The middle one said “Hello! My name is Dracha!”. The last one said “Hello! My name is Dedvil!” Suddenly, Dracha threw Crizma up and all three heads opened their mouths. Just as Crizma was about to fall into Dedvils drooling, smelly mouth, Rekter jumped to save her. Rekter knew that it wouldn’t make a difference but just then Rekter realized he was flying. Rekter pushed Crizma out of the way just in time. Not too long after that, the sea monster went after Sicore. Sicore just stood there and stared. He felt hopeless.

Chapter 4

But instantly a giant shining silver sword appeared in Sicore’s hand. Sicore swung his sword and cut a gash in Dare’s head. This made Dare go bonkers. He started running around and crashing into rocks. Soon, Dare’s face was filled with bruises. His head started to rot and it fell off. Now only Dracha and Dedvil were left. Rekter started flying. He zoomed past Dracha and punched Dedvil in the nose. Dedvil and Dracha fell to the ground. Just as Dedvil was about to get up, Rekter punched him back to the ground. Dedvil’s head started to rot and it fell off. Dracha was the last head left. He charged at Rekter, but Rekter dodged him. Next, Dracha charged at Sicore. Sicore got scared. He waited for his sword to appear, but it didn’t. Dracha was just about to prick Sicore with his tooth but Crizma pushed Sicore out of the way just in time. Crizma started to look angry. She ran towards Dracha. She started running faster and faster until she was zooming everywhere. She ran in circles around Dracha until he became very dizzy. Dracha fell down and his head started to rot. Of course, it fell off too. And the pearl came out!

“Yeaa!” Instantly they were shot back to the small hut.

“Great job!” said the ten foot man. “The people of the world are waiting for you.”

The ten foot man pressed a button and a portal appeared. Sicore, Rekter, and Crizma jumped into the portal. “Woohoo!” Sicore, Rekter and Crizma heard people cheering.

“That adventure was awesome!” said Rekter.

“Yeah!” said Sicore.

“But this isn’t the only one” they both shouted.

 

The End

Aarnav Chitari is a 9 years old at Spicewood Elementary in Austin, Texas.

A Diamond Is Forever

Hidden behind a jumbo glass of Lassi, (a yogurt drink popular in Pakistan and India), Ustad (a teacher or a master) Bilgrami was sitting buried in deep thoughts in the cafeteria of my friend Minocher’s Writer’s Club. He greeted me cheerlessly and waved me to sit next to him. Obviously, something was weighing heavily on his mind. I ordered coffee and he took out from his pocket a small stone wrapped in a tissue.

“What do you think it is?” he asked.

“Looks like a precious stone, a diamond worth an enormous sum of money.” I replied.

“Ha!” he exclaimed. “Your knowledge of most things is limited. Can’t you see that this is a cheap imitation?”

“I don’t care what it is as I am not at all interested in gems and stones. My talents lie in creative writing and advertising.”

“Ha, ha!” he laughed shortly. “Eighty per cent of the advertising you are exposed to is forgotten within twenty-four hours, so they say. All of the ads created by you in the past fall under this category.”

He was getting harsh and was once again harping on his favorite subject of belittling me. I think the waiter who was filling my cup also heard his comments about me, as I could detect a slight movement of his Hitler-like moustache mocking me. I wouldn’t have taken this from any one else, but Ustad Bilgrami was an exception. He had earned a life-long respect from all of us who were his students decades ago, when he was our sports coach in college. Besides his official duties, he helped us solve our personal problems in a jiffy and guided the naïve youths towards the path of success. No problem was insoluble for him.  Even today in his eighties, his only passion is to help people in distress.

“Okay, now let me know what ails you? Can I be of any help?” I asked.

“What bothers me is that how can a person whom you trust stoop so low in his pursuit of material things? Faiza, a daughter of a departed friend, a genuine social worker, inherited a rare piece of diamond worth millions of rupees from her father. She wanted to evaluate the exact price, hence trusted her uncle Haji Arbab, a famous jeweler, to find out its worth. This guy duped her, substituted the real thing with a cheap stone. I have been racking my brains on how to restore the diamond to her.”

“Didn’t you eat enough fish and drank sufficient quantity of lassi,” I asked, as I was sure that the only reason why this eighty-four year old Ustad was still mentally alert and physically agile was because of his fondness of these foods.

He looked at me sternly for a moment and said, “I have an appointment with this Haji Arbab this afternoon at his shop on Tariq Road, and I want you to accompany me. You will pose as a diamond expert from USA, eager to buy rare stones.”

“Me! A diamond expert?” I gasped.                                                       

“Do not get concerned. I will teach you the basics. All you have to say when he shows you the diamond is that it is a fake.”

Haji Arbab’s air-conditioned jewelers shop was brightly lit and glittered with all sorts of jewels in the showcases. He had a swarthy complexion and a swollen face with black and white beard. He had put on a white shalwar-kameez (a loose long shirt and baggy trousers) with a black waistcoat, and looked with piercing eyes through gold-rimmed spectacles. As soon as he had dealt with a lady customer, he invited us to his inner chamber where I suppose he kept rare, valuable pieces.

“What can I show you, sir?” he asked me, ignoring the extended hand of Ustad Bilgrami.

“I am interested in buying a few precious stones...” I could not finish, as Ustad broke in, “This guy Rafiq is a fellow of the Gemological Institute of America, on tour of various countries to buy rare diamonds for the Institute. Can you show something really wonderful?”

He took out a small velvet case from a drawer and opened it. It contained a diamond that looked very similar to the one Ustad had shown me earlier. I picked it out and acted on the instructions of Ustad. Putting a magnifying loupe, I carefully inspected the diamond. This was something real. Even to a layman like me it looked brilliant and magnificent. Still looking at it, I said, “The 4 Cs — cut, clarity, carat and color — seem to be perfect, but wait, I see a very little speck of brown at the bottom that disturbs its clarity. My God, this is a fake!”

“What!” yelled Haji and Ustad at the same time. Ustad jumped up, grabbed the diamond and the magnifying loupe from my hand and almost danced around quickly. Looking at the diamond, he said, “I am afraid, this gemological expert is right. This is an imitation, which you wanted to sell as a genuine one. Bad, too bad! Do you know how your reputation will be blurred? This expert will submit a report to the Institute saying that a certain jeweler in Karachi by the name of Haji Arbab tried to dupe him. The report will be translated in seventeen languages and sent to all the diamond capitals in the world. Come on, Rafiq, let’s get out of here.” Saying so, he caught my hand and we were out of the shop, leaving Haji Arbab open-mouthed and in a daze.

Back at the hotel in my room, Ustad put the stone on a table and asked, “What do you see?”

“Didn’t you show this to me before?”

“Not this one. This one is what you saw at the Haji’s shop. It is genuine, the one that Faiza inherited and according to my estimate worth at least three million rupees. A Princess cut diamond, very well cut. It internally reflects light from one mirror-like facet to another and reflects it through the top of the stone, resulting in a display of brilliance and fire. Do you know how many cuts are there? Round, Princess, Oval, Pear, Marquise…”

Enough!” I cut him short. “Did you actually switch the diamonds? And when did you do that?

“As soon as you announced that it was a fake and I grabbed it from you. Didn’t you see me dance around?”

“But didn’t Arbab see you do that?

“Quickness of the hand deceives the eye. Now I’ll restore it to its original owner.”

 

 



Rafiq Ebrahim is a freelance writer and novelist. He has written three novels: Glowing Embers, Advertising, and The Other Side. The latest – Beyond the Crumbling Heights (Colors in the life of a Pakistani slum boy) — was published in USA in 2009 and is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and google.com/books. He has written for Potluck before.

The Fever

It was my brother’s idea but I guess I was the one who picked up the hatchet and did it. Dad always passed out on the couch in the living room, I don’t know when it started, but he either didn’t notice or just didn’t care. Mom though, she just slid against the wall and sat on the floor shaking her head. She must’ve cried for a few hours, but she did that most nights anyway. Right after I did it, Jake was still excited, his eyes wild. But I remember later that same night we stood in front of the microwave watching the chicken nuggets rotate clockwise and then a shakey counterclockwise (ever since that time Dad hurled it at me and it hit the counter instead) and Jake said, “Shit, Pete. We fucked up. We really fucked up.”

Even when the house started to smell, probably from the rot and decay, and that smell took over and masked the beer smell from the living room, I still didn’t feel regret. I had my eyes on the prize. I remembered why we did it. It was out of love. The heaviest love, the kind that knocks it out of you and you don’t even know if it took over your brain or your heart or your dick and then you realize it actually took your whole body like some alien abduction in a movie.

Jake saw her first because the juniors and the seniors share the early lunch period, but I know I fell in love with her first, and harder. That’s why the hatchet was in my hands and not his. Her name was Diane and the first day she came to our school her silver Corolla still had her Jersey license plate. It was the first time we had two girls in the school with the same name and somehow Diane Feinstein became Diane F. and Diane from Jersey got to be just Diane.

I forgot my phone at home that day and didn’t get the texts from Shaun or Freddie about the new girl. Shaun and Freddie were in 11th grade with Diane so they spent the entire day with her in every class and they texted the rest of the team about her until after school when we drove to the town over for football practice. I didn’t have my license yet because I was just a sophomore so I was in Shaun’s car when I first saw her. He was just about to accelerate out of the parking lot when he slammed his brakes. I remember the right side of my face hit into the back of Shaun’s headrest and I saw his arm shoved out the window, “Yo man that’s her.”

I knew right away who he was pointing at even though she was on the other side of the parking lot. She was walking with the twins and the twins never hung out with or walked with anyone else. The twins were a little fat and had short, curly hair that most of the time I didn’t even remember or notice was blonde. But Diane was sandwiched between them with her long brown hair and her beauty stood out even more against the matching white and blonde bobbing blurs next to her. We watched her wave to the twins and get into her Corolla before Shaun finally released the break and stepped on the gas. We were late to practice that day and Coach P. made us run laps, but I didn’t even care because all I could think about was Diane.

Jake was taking out Dad’s bottles to the curb that night when Shaun dropped me off at home. “Dude, that new girl.” “Yeah…fuck.” We were still sitting on the front steps and talking when mom got home. We knew she was having a bad day because her shoes were already off and dangling in her hand when she stepped out of the car. She drives barefoot when she’s mad.

“It’s late did you two do your homework?”

“Yea, Ma, hours ago” I knew Jake would have already. I nodded my head but mom knew. “Go Pete. Now.”

I climbed the stairs two at a time and heard my dad from the living room, “Fuck you, Sharon, I was sleeping,” and knew that my mom probably threw her shoes at dad. I didn’t like when was angry, but I liked it better than when she was sad. I never ended up doing my homework that night and instead lay in bed ignoring the shouting that would probably turn into crying downstairs, just thinking of Diane.

That year was the second year of the three year-long golden streak for our football team because of Ben Murphy, the surprise quarterback. Ben Murphy was in the 11th grade with Diane that year but he should’ve been a senior with Jake. Ben used to be this scrawny guy and all most of us knew about him was that he lived on the poor side of town and he didn’t have a dad. One summer Ben went to stay with his bodybuilder uncle in Florida and he comes back with a chinstrap beard and muscles that even Jake was jealous of and Jake didn’t even care about those things. He walked onto the football field one day during practice and then suddenly he’s starting quarterback instead of Shaun and we started winning all our games.

No one even cared or asked why he had to repeat 11th grade even though I guess it was kind of weird since Jake said Ben got decent grades, maybe even better than mine. We were just glad we’d have him on the team for another year. 

I guess I kind of liked Ben Murphy before I found out he and Diane were talking. Shaun was the one who texted me that day they first sat together during lunch. I texted Jake right away because he liked to read during lunch and I thought maybe he wouldn’t notice Ben and Diane. I was wrong. Jake blew up my phone, “I bet that dick is gonna ask her to prom.” “I should ask her” “Ben’s an idiot he couldn’t even finish 11th grade” “She looks like she doesn’t even want to be sitting there.”

Jake tried to find out more about the Ben-Diane situation from this junior he was tutoring and when he wasn’t doing that he was talking shit about Ben to anyone who would listen (mostly me.) I didn’t say much, but I felt something too. It was like someone lit a fire underneath my feet. I started going to every class late. The juniors and seniors had their classrooms on the second floor and the freshman and sophomore classrooms were stuck on the first floor. I would take the stairs up and walk through the entire length of the second floor to the opposite stairwell back downstairs to get to class. If I did it fast enough I would catch a glimpse of Diane as she was walking into class. I wasn’t the only one. The second floor hallway that usually had maybe 140 kids at most at any time suddenly had 20 extra guys speed walking and pushing their way through.

We were all waiting for something. I don’t know what everyone else was waiting for but I knew what I was waiting for. Like Diane would drop her books and I would help her pick them up. Or the lockers would start to crash down and I’d save her and hold up the lockers against my back. A serial killer would sneak into the school and I’d shoot him down with a gun. I’d have to buy a gun. How long did it take to get a gun license? I could set off a fire in the juniors’ chemistry lab and carry Diane out before the room exploded. I carried a matchbook around for a week before I lost it somewhere in the locker room. The school would get a swimming pool and Diane never learned to swim because maybe they didn’t have pools in Jersey and I would give her CPR. I needed to learn CPR. Each day I came up with more scenarios that I prayed would play out during the two minutes between classes.

By the middle of October there was a set group of guys that would sit with Diane at lunch. Jake was one of them. It was the day before the first football game of the year when I came home to Jake waiting on the porch for me, dad’s empty bottles in a clear garbage bag next to him. “Fuck, Pete, fuck.” 

Ben told Diane during lunch that day about how he lived in a shotgun style house and she didn’t know what that was because they didn’t have those in Jersey. “Yeah, like you know it’s called shotgun cuz like if you open the front door and also, uh, the back door too and you take a gun ha, like the one my uh uncle got me, did I tell you about that Diane, I got my own rifle, and if you shoot that gun it goes in the house and out the house in one uh line. Shot gun style hah.” Even when Jake got so excited that he talked too fast he still could pull off a good imitation of Ben.

“Pete I fucked up though. Ben invited Diane to come over to his house and Diane was like, yea sure Ben that sounds cool and that fucking Ben was so smug and talking about how he’s tough as shit with his dumbass rifle and if she goes over he’s gonna make a move, I know it, game over, so I told her about our house. It just came out. I didn’t even know what I was saying. Pete, I told her a storm hit our house and destroyed the stairs so we use a rope ladder to get upstairs. I don’t even know man. I was nervous or some shit. She’s coming over next week to check it out. Fuck Pete, what the fuck do I do?”

I don’t even know what I said after that but I was still pumped from practice and Coach P.’s pep talk and nervous about the game and then suddenly I had Dad’s hatchet in my hands and I was swinging down into the wooden staircase, just hacking it apart and Jake was whooping next to me, “FUCK YOU BEN!” and I pictured Diane’s face as I described the killer storm to her and I would demonstrate the rope ladder to her (where do we buy one?) and she would see how big my biceps got and I just kept chopping away. The center of the stairs caved in and I could see into the basement but I didn’t stop until I broke into the wall and it was soft and wet for some reason and there was a weird musty smell. Jake was breathing hard and loud and my arms were burning up and I remember I just let the hatchet drop onto the ground and we started laughing so hard that Jake doubled over and my eyes watered.

Diane never did come over. She and Ben went out for what felt like the longest two weeks of high school until she ended up leaving school for six months because she got mono. Ben skipped all our football practices when they were dating and Coach P. got so mad that when Ben finally hauled ass to practice Coach P. just started yelling and raised his arms and shook them until Ben walked off the field. Shaun carried the team for the rest of the year and it was like a fever broke with Diane gone and everything back to normal.

I spent the rest of the year with my team trying to get back on our feet without Ben and Jake was getting his college apps together and then later was figuring out which school to choose. The staircase stayed broken because mom didn’t want to pay for it and dad didn’t care. Sometimes we would look at the half-demolished steps and start laughing all over again. 
Jake had already driven to and unpacked his things at UChicago when Shaun texted me that he ran into Diane at the pizza place and she said she was coming back to school. I called Jake to tell him but I guess he was busy with his orientation week because he didn’t call me back until half a month later. He was supposed to come back home for Thanksgiving that year but something came up and then he just didn’t come back for any break after that.

Jake finally came home two weeks after I graduated from Romopa Community College. I was working my shift at the hardware store. Jake had just graduated too, he sent copies of his graduation portrait here to dad and also to mom. His diploma was shipped here by accident before mom drove over to pick it up. He graduated magna cum laude with a major in Philosophy and a minor in Gender and Sexuality studies. Mom hung the diploma up in her living room.

I saw him walking towards the store through the double-paned front windows that I had just wiped clean that morning. His hair used to just flop but now it had a deep part and he was wearing these glasses with thick clear frames. Even his walk was a little different, like someone had pulled back his shoulders and pushed back his chin. I was still staring even when he came through the door because I wasn’t sure if it was him.

“Hey Pete.” He pulled a pack of gum from the bottom slot of the racks below the register and slid it to me. I just stared at the top of his glasses because he kept looking at his hands on the counter. He drummed his fingers a few times. “You talk to Ma recently? I’m driving over to her place after I grab some things from my room.” I shook my head. “I accepted a job in L.A. It’s nothing big, but it’s a start and I think a good foot-in-the-door for me when I try to get into production. Can you take a quick break? I don’t want to be alone with dad.”

We didn’t talk on the drive over. I waited by the front door until Jake came down the stairs, stepping around the areas that we had destroyed. He moved really slowly, like he wasn’t sure if what remained of the staircase could hold him up with the added weight of the box. I tried to catch his eyes, but I knew already that he wouldn’t laugh anymore about the staircase. His hands were in his pockets when he dropped me back off at the hardware store. “I think the smell got worse, you should probably call a mold guy.” I nodded. “Listen, Pete. I don’t know when I’ll be back. Don’t let dad drink himself to death and check in on Ma sometimes, okay?” He pat me on the arm and shuffled off to his car.

The gum was still sitting on the counter when I got back to my register. I was squatting down to put it back on the rack when I caught a glimpse of her hair, still as long and brown as it was before. Her current boyfriend was next to her, rummaging through the plumbing shelves. I stared at her hair until she turned around and saw me and gave a smile and a wave that knocked the pacifier out of the mouth of the baby she had cradled in her arms. Her eyes widened as she looked around to see where it fell and for a brief second I remembered the weight of the hatchet in my hands and I pictured Jake with his eyes wild and tears down his face, laughing.

 

Rita Twan is borrowing lots of money from the government so she can fix your teeth one day.

 

The Bones

The bones are uncovered when construction begins on the new mall at the far end of town. Everyone comes to see. The skulls have been laid out in a row, and we wander among them.
Doris from the convenience store is the first to recognize one.
That’s Little Jimmy, she says. She picks up the skull and holds it like a precious thing. I’d recognize the shape of his head anywhere.

Little Jimmy was Doris’s kid brother, or maybe, she thinks, a nephew. It’s been so long, she says. She remembers stroking his fine hair as he drifted off to sleep, tucked up against her chin. She remembers his fluttering eyelashes and his stubby nose. Little Jimmy’s been a long time gone. Wispy-haired Doris from the convenience store cradles the skull to her breast, and won’t let anybody else get hold of it.

Nobody knows his head the way I do.

Now that Doris has found long-time-gone Jimmy, the other skulls are claimed in the same way. We find our grandparents and our wives, and know them, the way we had done before they were only skulls. We give the bones their names; we lay them down together. There’s Deborah Butterman, and there’s Charlie Pedersen and Leonard Gates, Amelia Cooke and blacked-eyed Baby Susan, born small and dead right out of her mother’s womb. We lay the bones down. We make our dead whole.

That’s not me, says Amelia Cooke from the back of the crowd. I’m just fine.

Hush, says her mother. I’d recognize your skull anywhere.

She lays the bones down till they have come together in the shape of her daughter. Amelia Cooke runs round to the rest of us, tugging at our sleeves, begging look at me look at me. She’s only a ghost now, and we pay her no mind, and then, finally, she has gone, and we are left alone with the bones.

Cathy Ulrich once found a mouse skeleton when she was hiking. Her flash fiction has recently appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Spelk Fiction and Crab Fat Magazine.

 

I'm Sorry For What We Have Done, For What We Are Doing

We all sat around the dining room table, my grandpa, my parents, and my aunt and uncle, slowly drinking bitter, watered down coffee to wash down the roast beef we had just finished. I switched between my seventh glass of red wine and my black coffee as my father turned to my grandfather and asked, “what exactly IS the average cost of cremation in the United States?” In case you’re wondering, the average cost of cremation in the United States in roughly three grand, as we discovered. The evening had remained relatively one note, but I had to remind myself how dynamic people were when they were marred by strokes and a lack of cartilages. My parents warned me that this weekend in Hendersonville, NC would not be exciting, but I knew that. I have been coming here since I was eight years old and I’ve rarely seen past the walls of my grandpa’s house. Since my last visit, it had been two years and I can’t help but feel punished for the time I’ve taken to grown and mature. Since I came out of the closet, published my memoir about being gay, and allowed my sense of self to flourish, my grandpa has suffered two minor strokes, he’s fallen down four times, once shattering his kneecap, and when I entered the house two hours ago for dinner he met me with a feeble grin and in a loud, booming voice called out, “Jason!” When I corrected him, he stared at me vacantly, as if I were some familiar wisp of wind.

There was a time in my life where it would have pained me to hear my grandfather call me by the wrong name. I would have taken it to heart that he could barely see the way my once crooked teeth and acne ridden face had morphed into that of an adult, but the cataracts in his eyes make it nearly impossible for him to distinguish me from a sack of potatoes at the age of 90. As much as I wanted to rekindle our relationship, I knew that simple tasks were now cumbersome to him. My mission was simple, to ask him about a story that has haunted me since the day I came out to my father. On the back patio of our home in the unusually chilly northern Florida weather, my father had told me how much he had disagreed with a decision his next door neighbor had made. When my father’s neighbor had come out to his father, his father told him he was no longer welcome in his home; that his very existence was a disgrace to the family name. Coming out to my father, he began to cry and recount this story, expressing that he did not understand how a father could turn his son out into the harsh world for loving himself. 

Back in the ‘60s, things like cancer, pregnancies out of wedlock, and homosexuality were hushed secrets whispered over shrubberies between sneaky neighbors. If it wasn’t discussed, then it couldn’t possibly exist; not to the good, God-fearing people my grandparents were known to rub elbows with. The day after my seventh glass of wine, I sat my grandfather down in the Buick dealership he had insisted on me driving him to in order to check if one of his tires was low. I poured us both a cup of dark roast coffee and popped two Advil, nursing the deep red wine hangover that continually washed over me like a toxic low tide every time I opened my mouth to breath. Handing him his coffee and positioning our chairs closer I made sure he was focused on me when I asked him, “Pop-Pop, what happened with Alex’s son?” It took him a few moments before he began to spin his narrative. Without prompt, it was as if he understood what I meant, but felt very unsure of how to tell me.

Sipping on the tea he held in his shaking hand, he slowly told me that Alex’s son had come out of the closet shortly before his eighteenth birthday. Ashamed of his son, Alex had turned him out into the cold world, insisting that he never come back. So instead of going home, Alex’s son took a lover and moved to San Francisco where he began to work “as a poof hairdresser,” my grandpa told me. Alex was rejected by his wife and daughter, two people who could not understand why a man could cast out his own son and his marriage remained strained for the rest of his life. When I asked, I prompted my grandfather to tell me what happened to Alex’s son in the end, he looked me in the eyes and said, “He got sick. Very sick, he is dead now,” then began to cough violently, spitting up a wad of phlegm into his sleeve. 

When he had finally finished his eyes had glazed over and he only returned to me when someone called out his name to announce that his car was ready. He struggled to get out of his chair and patted me twice on the back as he inched towards the man holding out his car keys.

 

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Say the name Kevin Horne to almost anyone who had a queer child during the 80s and they’ll immediately feel pure terror. Horne was a San Francisco resident who had the first recognizable diagnosis of AIDS at the time. To rehash the details of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s in simple statistics seems to devalue the emotional ravaging it had on the United States, but to put things into perspective, by the time the decade began to twilight 100,000 people diagnosed with AIDS had been reported to the CDC. 

Beginning as what many considered isolated incidents of a rare form of cancer, the disease quickly caused gay men to shake in their pants. By 1982 it became wide-spread opinion that AIDS was a “gay disease.” When the body count mounted to 121 known victims of the sickness people to panic and take drastic measures to ensure that they were not the ones to contract it. By the mid 1980’s the term “AIDS hysteria” became a popular phrase, one that was associated with a lengthy TIME article entitled “The New Untouchables.” As if hugging your gay child close would ensure you were next to suffer and die. 

Families who were raised in the early 60s took the staunch route of not talking about the disease, choosing to pretend it was something that couldn’t touch them. Believing they were protected by their privilege, their bloodlines, and their prestige in their communities they build what they considered an impenetrable fortress of solitude. When my grandfather said Alex’s son was sick, I knew he had meant that Alex’s son had contracted AIDS. This fact, which was later confirmed by aunts and uncles of mine, showed how deep this ideology of ignorance ran. These families with queer children were being ripped apart by an “illness” too sinister and shameful for them to talk about.

 

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My mother is a broken kaleidoscope when it comes to revealing pieces of her childhood. She will withhold information, carefully selecting what she will share and what she will bring to her grave. Then, suddenly and all at once she will release staccato bursts of memories that ripple through the years in bright reflections of colors, bringing what has made her, her, into focus. Pouring over the notes I had collected over the weekend from my grandfather on the six hour car ride home, she chose to tell me a story I had only brief glimpses of before. 

Growing up, my Aunt had a gay best friend named Tom. His sexuality was never really a talking point between the two of them, instead they chose to intersect its importance with partying and nights of frivolity. Eventually, Tom moved away to California and the two of them lost touch much like childhood friends do. When my aunt became engaged, she wanted to extend an invitation to Tom, a memento of the childhood she was about to leave behind upon entering matrimony. Only she was unable to get a hold of Tom and no amount of scouring the yellow pages or California directories could shake her feeling that Tom had dropped off the face of the earth. 

In a desperate attempt to reach out to Tom, my Aunt called up Tom’s sister-- she said she would pass along the message to her brother, promptly hanging up the phone before any more questions could be asked. 

Three weeks went by before my aunt received a letter with no return address from Tom. It stated “I’m sorry, girl, can’t make it to your wedding but we’ll get together soon to dish the dirt!” My aunt felt her stomach turn as she read the letter. This was not from Tom; in all her years of knowing him he had never once said “dish the dirt,” to her. My Aunt called back up Tom’s sister on the phone and she conceited. She told my aunt that Tom had moved to California and while there, contracted AIDS. Although he was sick, his family was so ashamed of his disease that they swept him under the rug. They didn’t know how to talk to other relatives and friends about Tom’s condition, so they simply didn’t. When he died there was no funeral, there was no obituary in the newspaper. Tom’s family was under the delusion that pretending he was still alive would placate the shame and confusion they felt for the way he went.  Children like Tom were simply “sick,” then gone, then attempted to washed away by their families in an attempt to keep up appearances.

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When I left my grandpa after the weekend he pulled me close and hugged me. I could feel his balance shifting as he positioned himself against mine to steady the legs that were beginning to fail him. He pulled back and stared at me with his pale blue eyes that I knew could barely bring me into focus. I wanted to tell him all about who I was, about who I loved and who I wanted to build a life with. Instead I told him how much I loved him and how grateful I was that I got to see him. He waddled out to the car and leaned against the door to tell me, “I am so proud of you, you know that?” As we drove away I watched him steady himself on his cane, wondering if I would have the chance to see him again; if I would ever be able to introduce him to the man I love. As people age they begin to understand the gravity of their lives, and at 90 every moment we had spent together felt filled with the silence of everything I still wanted to say to him before he is gone. 

As we speed through the mountains, the trees looking like they had burst into flames with yellowing leaves, my grandfather’s voice boomed throughout the car as I replay our interview over the speakers. I am asking him a question about his combat experience during WWII when his voice cracks and silences. The 30 seconds between my question and his answer feel like i’m being pulled through the decades, colored in shadows of his pain. When his voice returns, it is filled with angry tears. When he answers, it does not relate to the question I had asked him, instead he seems to be speaking to everything that was never said between us. As if he was pulling through all his elderly confusion to reach the ghosts of sons who were hidden by their families for an illness that cracked them to their very core: “I am sorry for what we have done...for what we are doing…” his words reverberating through the car on infinite loop in an echo chamber. 

 

 

Shawn Binder is an essayist for Bustle and VICE News. He is currently working on his second book, I Can Self Destruct, when he isn't eating hummus or watching videos of otters.