Magic Carpet Ride

Picture Credits: S. Hermann and F. Richter

The narrator coughed and said imagine a double rainbow how the surprise of it is like a traffic accident viewed by the driver of a random red car who had been until that moment slightly bored by his surroundings and the complaining chatter of the woman beside him why don’t we ever stop at hotels they have those long bars with a piano and the man said he had enough energy to get them to McSweeney’s and after 30 minutes driving the car slowed and the man said I could kill for a pint and she kept quiet until he said look there above the carpet outlet a rainbow and she said you mean two rainbows and that’s as far as the narrator got before the man said he was the one who’d spotted the double rainbow and the woman said no, she had, then the narrator coughed and said he couldn’t go on if the man and woman confabulated a rainbow story into a traffic accident, and the driver said, I’m that parched for a pint, and the woman said we never go anywhere nice, only pubs, even though I’m literally run off my feet all day the customers and the narrator told them both to shut up and let him do his job, and the man put on his jacket and the woman said they knew when they weren’t wanted, and after they left I checked the door’s double-locks, lit a cigarette, and leaned out the window, a red car stalled twice in front of McSweeney’s and a man and woman got out and I thought about my ex saying everything happens for a reason that time beauty said to her beast even a jackass writer knows smoking causes cancer until the pack was empty and the double rainbow above the outlet had disappeared.




St. Marks & 1st

Picture Credits: Ruslan Alekso

A
bartender leans against the counter of the bar she tends, explaining to a man on
a stool how she prefers remaining sober on dates. Because when she’s drunk, she
says, everyone’s attractive. Then, after she’s hooked up with whomever that
other person happens to be, she doesn’t know if it’s because she actually liked
him, or if she was looking for something else. She keeps it at that, and the
man on the stool nods in appreciation. Whether his gesture is genuine or not, he
is outwardly captivated by the introspection she displays. A third man, sitting
some nine or ten feet away, next to a friend he’s just gone to see a matinee
film with, wonders distractedly what relation the man on the stool has to the
bartender. What position does he hold in her esteem such that she’s decided to volunteer
such a glimpse into her character? A co-worker, perhaps? A friend awaiting the
end of her shift? A hopeful romantic lending his ready ear? Thinking, You can stay sober with me. I can get on
board with that.

This
third man’s friend, having just finished expounding on a particularly
enlightening idea regarding the film, stands to go to the bathroom. Alone, the
third man pulls his phone from his pocket with the half-hearted intention of
seeing whether he’s received a text from his wife. Or maybe in his inbox he’ll
find an email from somebody. Or, if all else fails, perhaps there are some photos
in his gallery he might swipe through.

A
chorus of shouting arises from the other end of the counter. The third man
doesn’t look up to see the gesticulating arms and expressions aghast on the
faces of the sports fans, their eyes glued to the flat screen television.  He’s always held certain disdain for unconditional
idolatry of athletics, the steadfast fealty to a team. Long ago, however, he
crossed the threshold of age at which those initially inclined stop admiring blanket
condemnations of things like professional sport. When the witty diatribe is no
longer taken as keen or original but is received as the bitter yammering of a
self-righteous fool—a fool who never made
it
himself, no less. At least the athletes knew what they were to society, shaped
most of what they did around credence, and based their lives on tangible
objectives. No, at a certain age it is better to bite one’s tongue.

The
screen of his phone yields very little. There is no text from his wife, just a
promotional email from an organization he donated to until the credit card he’d
used to sign up expired. The photos in his gallery are somehow displeasing to
him, trite. They make him feel, in an instant, very small.

His
friend is back, standing over him. “Shall we?”

He
stuffs his phone back in his pocket—uncertain of why he pulled it out in the
first place. The bartender has left her station behind the counter. It dawns on
him that he’s afforded himself little design to guide a now weary mind through
what remains of the day. Besides, he is stuck thinking of the inadequacy of his
gallery, of the maddened, charged person he used to be.




Icebergs

For their first date, he took her to see an iceberg. Well, bits of one. Mo said the artist had them shipped over from Greenland in freezer containers. Something about climate change.

  He’d only had two pictures on his profile. One in a suit (smile) and one up some mountain (eye-roll). Halima had flicked back and forth, from tuxedo to snow, silk tie to shades, twirling them like a penny. Didn’t think he’d swipe back.

            She didn’t mind the walk. They met
after work and went via Regent Street and the Christmas angels winked overhead.
Mo gave her a box of dark chocolates and said she looked nice. She lobbed the
word back, but it didn’t do him justice. Someone who’d done Veganuary and was
still going strong. Someone who’d done the Three Peaks challenge and was doing
the marathon next year.

But when they reached the Bloomberg building, Halima’s hands and feet were numb. Then they saw the blocks and he beamed. Taller than her and as wide as cars, each one had a different complexion, from foam to blue-grey. As translucent as skin.

            He placed his palm on one, so she took
off her gloves and did the same. Then she wondered if he minded the leather and
stuffed them in her pockets. It wasn’t as cold as she’d thought it would feel.
It was smooth and beautiful, like the way death is in films.

            Mo gazed at each one while she gazed
at him, ignored by the bankers and tourists, who were marching away or on their
phones. One sloped like a sled and three girls sat on it, taking selfies. Halima
looked at their jeans and Uggs, regretting her dress and pumps. Mo had had the
right idea, with his black peacoat and Harry Potter-y scarf. She thought about putting
her arm through his, to see if she’d feel his blood through their sleeves.

He
put his ear against one. “Listen,” he said.

“Er…”
Her hijab was cotton and she didn’t want a wet patch. Or, worse, for it to
stick, then fray and pull against her pins. But she copied him because she was already
shivering. At first she heard nothing except her own foolishness. Then a faint crackling
and popping, like cereal.

She
straightened up. “So, how’d you hear about this?” 

“It
was in the news, there are more outside Tate Modern. Thought it would be a cool
thing to do.”

The side of his face was as slick and pale as paper. She wondered what else he thought was cool. And why they hadn’t just met at the café. And if she could bear to spend another New Year’s Eve alone.

“They’ll
only be here for about another week,” he said. “Less, if it’s warmer.”

“Oh,”
she said, and wondered if she’d still know him by then.




Royal Cauldron by Ariel Dawn

face, eye, eyelid, eyelash, eyebrow, göz, kahverengi

On the terrace of my room in the tower ancestors drink tea in the snow. Lately I awaken to feel them rushing for some high and holy day, suitcases open, dresses, tuxedos, gifts, bouquets, before they vanish. They remain, and the Royal Cauldron tea set, chai, cakes, oranges. Fur coats over nightclothes, eyes blue flames in silver shadows. Lawrence leans against door frame and smokes a cigar. Good path down the road, he says, and the doors are open at the Manet hotel. He holds The Forest, dark oil, to hang in the corner. Ancestors turn and stare. In his eyes they are invisible: the tea, and the lady setting out glass bottles, amber, sapphire, emerald, air.




Love and Death on the Azoteas

She lay naked on
the flat rooftop drenched in the morning sunlight, Montez liked to photograph
Roya from different angles, catching the shade thrown from various bone and
limb positions. Across the city at this level he could see many such rooftop
dwellings, a private club of like-minded comrades living cheaply and
subversively, artists, agitators, lovers; all seemingly out of reach of the
tentacled government machine below.

Across
the gap between buildings on the roof to his left was Brentano the artist, to
the right Roberto and his group of anti-establishment revolutionaries. Montez
and Roya had sex openly on the roof surface, a free exhibition for any of their
neighbours to enjoy as performance art. Brentano would occasionally sketch
their coupling, anonymous stringy figures wrapped around each other in a puzzle
that couldn’t be unpicked, completing the piece later to sell to local
galleries. He painted sultry, moody depictions of Roberto gazing down with
contempt at the heaving immensity of the city from his rooftop vantage point,
sometimes as caricature, other times catching the very essence of his intended
menace.

One
late steamy afternoon Roberto saw Montez sitting on the edge of his building
dangling his feet over the side a hundred feet above the road.

“Hey Montez my
friend! Party tonight over here, celebration for our successful demonstration
today, positive action amigo.” He raised a fist to the air. “Bring Roya, let’s
party together, bring your camera we’ll take some pictures for the media!”

Montez was excited
by the idea, he knew it would be a wild night and that Roya would enjoy
herself. Shouts echoed across the roofs of several adjacent buildings, plans
being made, signals exchanged among friends. Montez nonchalantly walked along
the edge a few steps then turned to watch Roya padding naked and barefoot back
towards their single room outbuilding at one end of the flat expanse.

The
rooftop dwellers lived outside the system and were afforded a certain amount of
tolerance by local politicians because of the international artistic kudos they
brought to the city, but the local police or ‘Black Shirts’ as they were known
didn’t need much of an excuse to disrupt their bohemian way of life. The local Chief
of Police was a large, heavy lidded laconic man called Camacho, he knew about
the ‘subversives’ and their way of life and wasn’t overly concerned until found
himself one of an official party attending the opening of an art gallery in the
city. As he reluctantly shuffled around the exhibits his interest was suddenly piqued
by a painting depicting a man on a rooftop azotea, posing with fisted salute
and bearing a strong resemblance to the known political agitator Roberto
Sanchez, Camacho thought he recognised the location.

The
night of the party Montez walked out into the heavy warm air to listen to the
buzz and crackle of the city below and the shouts and laughter of the party
revellers. Roya was already there and the fun was spreading out over Roberto’s
rooftop, Cuban music and a smoky smell of barbecued beef swirling through the
night. Then something below caught his eye, small black shapes swarming around
Roberto’s building at ground level, like small insects looking for the entrance
to their nest.

“Black Shirts!”

Montez shouted the
warning, but it took time for anyone to hear him and start a chain reaction of
retreat, the police had already made it to the roof before most of them had
moved. Montez looked on at black arms flailing with sticks, people buckling,
angry voices and screams replacing the laughter. He saw two Black Shirts take
hold of Roya, she screamed as Roberto ran toward her brushing off the attention
of flying batons, he tried to pull her away from the men. Horror struck Montez
and he sank to his knees to watch Roberto backing away toward the edge of his
roof in front of three pursuers kicking out and throwing punches. At the point
of no return he looked across at Montez and smiled, still denying, fighting,
frustrating the system that he so despised right to the very last moment. In
the last seconds he looked calm and Montez knew what he had to do. Picking up
his camera he also noticed Brentano on his rooftop, painting the whole scene
for history, so that no one, would ever forget.




An End of a Start

Picture Credits: pixel2013

And they said they felt they could have had perfection, only coming across each other at the wrong point in life, one always in tow, or just wide of the course toward which they both ultimately tended. It seemed to them so much to lack fairness, like all life had conspired to make it hard, and so near impossible, despite that same life having conspired to bring them together in the first place. They realised too, that the difference between twenty and twenty-eight is far greater than that between thirty and thirty-eight; so were maybe ten years out of kilter with a full and easy life together. He was twenty and still wanted mistakes and failings, the thrill of them, and to not be so fucking serious all the time. To work shit jobs and to rent apartments in the wrong places and fail to get it together for at least a few years, which some part of him felt was grounding. And besides, it was what she had done – gone scrappily through the world on not enough sleep, and done things wrong and enjoyed that she had. At twenty-eight living a 24-hour coffee-enabled life was no longer what she wanted, needed, and yes so what if it was sad, she really did get fucking excited about having a mortgage and going to cavernous outlet stores to buy garden furniture. It wasn’t that her adventuring was over and all the romance drained with it, but that it was merely transposed down to a lower key, deeper and, she felt, more foundational. Yet she still wanted him to be able to tinkle about like a piccolo, and he wanted her to live in that new slower world in which she could better come to grips with her current reality. But as they did not converge they tried forcing it, therefore coming down and coming up to a life in between them of about twenty-four, a neither here nor there which suffered all of the instabilities with none of their dumb excitable hectic joy. He had begun to take his way, and she hers, and though momentarily converging, the two having met would not now join. It was a fixed thing, and you felt you could bring someone along with you but not move over to them. Not out of something stubborn, or selfish, but the mere matter of what was, and what would be; allowing him to go on fine and part-fulfilled by work which gave him nothing but money; and told her she could never again do something if it weren’t for the love of it. The different points along they had reached meant they were both suited to where they were at. But neither could be suited to what suited the other. And the painful thing, what they couldn’t quite understand and what made it now so frustrating and hard, was that this was nothing to do with them. They couldn’t change, and didn’t need to. They had to come to terms with the fact of being unequal, at this moment at least, and there was no getting around it or making it go away. So he was driving home and tears were stinging his eyes and he couldn’t really see his way forward, and she stayed put with her eyes stung by tears and saw too well, both of them pained by it not working and pained further still by the knowledge it was out of their hands.




Saving Grace

Picture Credits: Couleur

Grace, a celebrated actor, sat on her
chair in readiness for an interview. She was startled when she saw a huge spider
hovering by the window. But instead of screaming she got up and lifted the
catch. The spider darted through the open gap. Which made Grace feel good about
being so in control. She asked herself what was her worst spider experience. And
came up with the following:

That time when she and her friend Jayne
were nine years old and a spider ran out of the old metal teapot in the shed
when they kicked it over. Because they were playing how to dance like a
monkey.
  Their favourite game. As
they swung low then high their feet crashed into the pot on a flimsy shelf. The
spider fled and the two screeched in terror. Grace’s mother was busy clearing
the shed and she looked a tad put out. She said later that was the moment when
Grace learned to be frightened of spiders. And insisted Grace caught the fear
from Jayne. So where had Jayne caught it from, Grace wondered?  But how could you catch fear anyway, she said
to herself. It wasn’t a disease. Actually, that wasn’t the worst spider
experience because Grace and Jayne were frightened-and-screeching together. And
there was a bit of fun in that. Also, Grace’s mother liked spiders and said
they were good and got rid of flies and helped to keep things clean. So there
was a bit of comfort to be had as well.

What about when she lived in the dusty
cottage with Jake, her then boyfriend? A spider rose on rear legs right next to
them, as though delivering a warning that it was about to attack. But this was
not the worst experience either because love was mixed in with everything else
that happened then, even that.

Well, there was that other incident. A
spider had unexpectedly concealed itself under a cloth and Grace had caught sight of it when
she’d lifted up the corner. She hadn’t been able to stop shuddering.  It was hairy, and so angular. No, because,
she was softened by seeing the creature had eyes.

Then there was the time this spider ran down a curtain and Grace’s partner Mick caught it to put out in the garden. But it bit his hand hard and he killed it by accident in the shock of the moment. And that was very sad. But no, because it was dead and gone so there was a bit of relief for her in that.

Or when, all furry in its netty corner
of the kitchen in her new friend Bill’s house, a spider bobbed and leapt up
over and over. But even though she couldn’t help seeing its roving shadow
inside the tacky web Grace felt this sudden rush of warmth. Because she was
sure it wasn’t about to come out of its cosy nest. Which meant that she was safe.

But it had really got to be the
occasion that Grace stepped out of the bath and got her towel from behind the
washbasin. She’d glanced sideways and seen something running up her bare
shoulder. At the same time this was reflected in the bathroom mirror. It was
the biggest spider ever. So this just had to be the very worst experience.
Grace was hunched forwards yet with her shoulders jerking backwards. And she
couldn’t help repeating this awkward movement even though the spider had run
away by then. In fact she found she was unable to stop. Months later, whenever
she told other people what she’d gone through she’d still kept on reproducing
the way she had expressed her horror. Which was as often as she had an
audience. Because there was something in her that needed to tell everyone and
to make the perfect actions to go with the tale. And with every time she told
them there was a reduction in her own bad feeling as it seeped further and
further into the performance itself. So still no. No! Because that was how she
learned to act.




The Surrogate

Picture Credits: Tracy Lundgren

I’ve always wanted to go to one of
those fancy-schmancy exhibition galleries, but because I can’t, a surrogate
observer, in patent leather boots, colorless braids, and a patent leather
jacket I always wanted to wear, is doing it for me.

People milling around here and
there, admiring their own shadows, their attention fixates on each other’s
conversations, the blonde waitress with free champagne, and the famous actress
showing up last minute.

Light filters through the skylights
above like the surprised wings of sparkling fireflies.

My surrogate observer goes straight
to the paintings on display—three in total—the click-clack of her heels is
swallowed by the muddle of discordant thought/desire burdens people wear like
second skin.

Here’s what my surrogate is seeing
with supposedly my eyes, but in actuality my husband Ken’s eyes— the result
of years of emotional imprinting as some self-help book or another so
elaborately explains.

Painting no.1:

A bisque doll…Anne-May doll…ancient
doll… IT’S MY ANNE-MAY DOLL…dangling…NO, SHE’S FLOATING…from ugly-colored…balloon…disgusting
red…THE COLOR OF MY INFLAMED INSIDES WHEN YOU FORCE YOURSELF IN… …only one good
arm… holding on to the thread… grey clouds…weird light… not sunlight… YES IT
IS SUNLIGHT…dead doll…disgusting balloon. 

Painting no.2:

That ugly doll…again… THAT’S MY
ANNE-MAY….orange braids…THAT’S STRAWBERRY BLONDE…big red nose…FROM TOO MUCH
CRYING…badly-drawn diamond tears…THATS SMEARED MASCARA YOU IDIOT…she’s a clown…I
AM NOT…In a town of clowns…THEY ARE NOT CLOWNS…where no one sees her…she’s not
funny…YOU DID THIS.

The Third Painting:

Dead doll…THAT’S ME ANNE-MAY…broken
limbs…YOU CAN’T SEE THE BROKEN HEART…hanging…from a clothes line…all dirty…YOU
ARE BLIND…reflected…in a mirror.

When the surrogate is finally home,
we hold hands, conspire, and we do it.

When Ken wakes up the next day, he’s
unduly pleased. The Barbie he’s always wanted is lying next to him.

I hold on to my balloon, happy too,
for him.




Gli Elefanti sono Stanchi

It was his
beauty. I loved looking at him. That’s why I found myself going back. He
wouldn’t pretend. He needed my help then he needed me as a woman. No more than
a couple of times. It was always up to me and I would always say yes. He gave
me plenty of space to say no. The way he asked, seemed he expected that. I
never tried to be elusive. I would go to the address he would give me. Two
different addresses. Two different times. One was his. One was his friend’s.

 I remember seeing him one day at the meadows. He wore a garish blue nineties T-shirt. A bit oversize. He was sitting a minute away from me. I had texted him if he was around for a drink. Hadn’t seen him while I composed the message. It took me half an hour to write a couple of lines. I used my two native friends. He replied the next day, saying it was a good day for it. Exclamation mark. The previous night, I slept with a guy I met that evening in the meadows. When I saw he would not reply to my message sitting a minute away from me, I would turn my head the other way, twenty minutes or so. When I finally looked at where he was supposed to be sitting, he was gone. After a couple of weeks he asked me to help him with his orals. I said yes. I met him the same day at the pub of the university. He was anxious. He wanted to get that done and leave. He didn’t order anything. He went along with his presentation. I pretended to have listened carefully to what he said. I ended up staring at him in an effort to focus on his voice. People were loud and his accent made it difficult. Then I gave him tips to avoid trap questions. If there were any. I remember trying to start a conversation.

We went out
he rolled me a cigarette and I rushed to finish my cider. Fringe was coming. He
said he wanted their money- those idiots who come and spend it there.  I didn’t think of asking him if he ever
enjoyed the festival. Next day, he thanked me saying he spoke cogently in
French.

Most of the times he was silent. That wouldn’t change even when he talked. He would say something but had no means to sustain a conversation. His words would linger a bit and drop. Beauty cupped it up. Out of all men I’ve slept with, I craved for two.  He was one of them. He couldn’t know that. I would look at him, look at him a lot. When I was dressing up, putting on my shoes. He looked back at me and smiled. It was more of a reaction to my staring at him and saying nothing. I had nothing more to say. I understood he wouldn’t see me again.




Crushed

Picture Credits: Callum Wells

“At the end, could you be
a bit less feminine?” she said.

They were in bed. As usual,
he was lying on top of her, exhausted, spent. She lay squashed beneath him, seeming,
he realised at this point, barely out of breath. As she spoke, it was like she’d
found a splinter already embedded in his sternum, a fine tweeze of wood, which,
with the tip of her forefinger, she was starting to push further in.

            “What
do you mean, less feminine?” he said, wincing.

            It was
the era of Time’s Up. It was the era of gender fluidity. But it was also the era
of Brad Pitt being interviewed for an online magazine, looking half his actual age,
and saying you shouldn’t be afraid to take
your woman like an animal
. Did he actually say that? It was a very confusing
time to be a twenty-something heterosexual, cis-gendered male. Especially when you
were infatuated with someone fifteen years older.

            “I just
mean you always sort of… whimper. When you come. Like a hurt puppy. It’s not a
good look. Couldn’t you be a bit more, you know…” She tailed off.

            “No,
I don’t know. What do you mean?” He was
hurt, now.

            “You
contort your face. And then you make this… noise. It’s just a bit disappointing,
that’s all. At the end.”

            “Thanks.”

            “I don’t
mean to say the whole thing is disappointing. It’s fine. Really.” She scratched her nose, stifled a yawn, then rolled
out from underneath him. He slumped onto his back and turned to the wall. “It’s
just,” she continued, “I usually prefer it when men are bit more…”

            The past
few years of gazing at ripped gym torsos tensed in his forearms; a decade of catching
his own voice like a stranger’s, shallow and childish in his throat, troubled
him now like a toxic aftertaste.

            “I
can’t help it.” He was speaking mainly at his wallpaper. “Once it gets to that
point, it’s instinctive. I don’t think you can control that sort of thing.” He
turned to her. “I mean, how would you like it if I said your walk wasn’t very
feminine, or your mouth was too male. You wouldn’t be able to do anything about
either.”

            “Yes,
but you wouldn’t, would you. I walk like a puma on heat. And you adore my lips.
You’ve told me.”
            Both of these things were
true. Why had he chosen examples of the very things he most liked about her?

            “Shall
we try again?” he ventured. “I’ll put in a special effort to make a better sound.
If we do it now, I’m more likely to remember, to get in the habit.”

            She looked
at him for a full five seconds before replying.

            “No, no,”
she said. “I don’t think we’ll try again.”

She lifted her long legs off
the sheets and slinked into the bathroom. He heard her running the tap, splashing.
He lay on the bed, staring at a ladybird that clung motionless to the wall. It
was sitting right on the dividing line between two strips of wallpaper.

He mulled things over for
a while. Gradually he started to lose focus. Where did those things keep coming
from? If he reached over right now with the tissues, and made one sudden movement,
it probably wouldn’t feel a thing.




Bite

Picture Credits: Duane Burdick

Later, she would say that he had been blessed but first, she would curse the fleshy lip of the mushroom, sprouting there in the shade along the path where the boy walked daily, back and forth from the mines, his bare feet scuffing the red dirt, his fingernails seamed with mud. And it was the yearning, not the weight of the leaden sacks on his bony shoulders, not the hours spent picking through dusty pieces of rock in search of metal, that put him in harm’s way on that day. Mineral dust took longer to scar a person’s lungs, tainted water took time to grow a tumor. It was the walk home, an empty-bellied trek along a stony path, a shortcut past the cool, wooded corner where his temple twitched as he reached down to pluck at the mushroom, that single moment of daring, that put the boy’s shins within striking distance of the snake’s fangs. Later, she would say that her son had been saved by the serpent’s head and herbs which she had ground up and charred and rubbed into razor cuts on his body. She would say that a boy, as small as he, might have suffered more than just the fever and the retching. She would wipe the dirt from his face and feed him a spoonful of fufu and tell him that one day, he would grow as tall and strong as an ebony tree and live like a king.




A Boy in Wolf River

Watching Wolf River flow by is to watch a god in rage. A flood of spring
rains turns the typically docile creek into a roiling serpent, broken branches
and trash swirling in its coils. Every now and then, little waves leap ashore,
bleeding through the grass to lick Adrian’s toes.

He stands a respectful distance from the springtime menace. A year
before, he had enjoyed swinging from a rope tied to an overhead branch,
trailing his toes across the water like a tease before landing in a dirt patch
beyond. But all good predators are patient, and when the old branch snapped,
Adrian dropped right into the river’s frothy jaws. It toyed with him, tossing
him over and under, slinging him tauntingly against its slippery banks before
sweeping him along again. The water was so cold that his body ached.  His lungs felt like they were twisting up
inside his chest, trying to wring themselves of the water he kept inhaling. The
gray-white churn of the surface gave way to blurry darkness.

This is it, he didn’t think but felt, for there is little space for thought in
the act of drowning. Thankfully, the hand of God reached down to yank him
through a sharp S-bend, and he was mercifully spat ashore.

The wind rushed by, wild and raspy, but then he realized that the
sounds were his own gasps for air. He clutched at the earth with every inch of
himself. The world spun, the day turning to hazy night and then back to burning
day once more.  Even as he dragged his
trembling body away, a piece of himself would be forever caught in the river’s
grip. A piece of his youth, stripped from him and driven to the sea.




Chemistry

Picture Credits: Feliciano Moya López

Boy has brown eyes, brown hair, and a
two-piece green-white pencil box with a hinge on one end. If you hold the
outer bit at the hinge end, you can swing the inner bit out all the way.
You could never lose just one bit and have to explain why. It’s cool. 

Boy has a brown voice too, but with
golden spangles that pop up at random. You don’t see them coming, and
suddenly they’re there. My brother says it sounds like the lab test
for lead. Plumbum. 

Boy catches flies. Mosquitoes. Bugs.
Spiders. A grasshopper one time.

Boy takes out his pens, pencils,
eraser, sharpener, 6” ruler — lays them out on the desk. Tears out a sheet
of notepaper, folds it in half lengthwise, and then once again. Places it
inside the pencil box, tucks the edges. Places the day’s catch inside.
Swings the lid closed. 

In his plumbous (valency two),
sometimes plumbic (valency four), voice, Boy offers it to me: innu njaan
naale nee. My turn today, and tomorrow, yours. I see this written on
the sides of hearses sometimes. 

I give Boy my antelope tooth, but
that is another story.




Hand Job

Picture Credits: ahyakal

I am working at the fish and chips shop when I am poached. The man who
poaches me looks like an old-time Hollywood producer. He is wearing brown boat
shoes, white linen shorts, a long-sleeved white linen shirt with one too many
buttons undone, and an expensive gold necklace; he should have been relaxing
poolside somewhere while beautiful people did cocaine from silver plates and
fucked in his pool house, not buying greasy food in some Melbourne tuck shop.
Later, when we are doing cocaine from a silver plate and beautiful people are
fucking in his pool house, I tell him of my initial impression and he says
emphatically, ‘the movies are a sucker’s game, baby, the hand industry is where
the money is!’

When I hand him his order – two pieces of battered
fish, $7.20 worth of chips, three potato cakes, a cornjack, two dim sims and a
Chiko roll – I am conscious of his heavy gaze. I ignore it and put another
basket of chips into the deep fryer. The oil splatters more than expected. When
I yank my arm away I hear the man cry out. ‘Get back!’ he yells. ‘For the love
of God be careful!’

He asks me to stop what I am doing and speak with him.
Once I finish cooking the new batch of chips and the customer leaves, the store
is empty, so I figure what the hell, take off my apron, and sit with him while
he slowly makes his way through his order. He has a special talent for chewing
food and breathing heavy through his nose at the same time.

‘Your hands are something special,’ he says, his voice
emerging from some deep cavern in his throat. ‘If you stop working here and
come with me we can change the world.’

I don’t have much going on at the time, so I shrug and
say, ‘sure, why not.’

The starting rate is $1000 just for showing up. Then
he pays me $200 for each ring I put on. On any given shoot, I will wear between
twenty to thirty rings. I make $5,400 on my first day. The man takes photos of
my hands for hours, gives me the cash in a yellow envelope sealed with a wax
stamp with an imprint of two hands inside the stamp, and sends me on my way.

Two weeks later, I see my hands on a billboard near
the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Maybe thirty people are standing in the street,
staring up at the billboard, saying admiring things about my hands. Everyone
agrees that my hands are the truly impressive part of the advertisement. When a
woman turns around, she notices my hands and says, ‘look, it’s the person from
the billboard. It’s the same hands.’ The crowd chases after me and I hide in an
alleyway until I feel safe.

One month later, I am in New York with the man from
the fish and chips shop. We are in a warehouse in Chelsea and a famous
photographer is taking pictures of my hands. These pictures get published in
Vanity Fair. Around the same time, a very cool writer who is famous on Twitter
publishes an article in N+1 about my
hands, their commodification and what it all says about late capitalism. It
goes on to become very influential; it is published in Best American Essays and taught in universities. 

Sometimes, stupid people I went to high school with
message me things like, ‘haha ur life is like that episode of seinfeld’ and
then use the crying laughing emoji.

While the man from the fish and chips shop and I are
doing cocaine from a silver plate and people are fucking in his pool house, I
think about being chased by a crowd and hiding in the alley. Sometimes I miss
putting chips in the deep fryer. My psychiatrist says I didn’t let myself deal
with the trauma of this event, but I say to her, ‘what is there to deal with?
It happened and it’s over.’

A man from the pool house comes up to me. His body has
a light sheen and he smells of sex. We let him take a hit of cocaine from our
silver plate. He says, ‘I have had sex in many pool houses and done cocaine from
lots of expensive silver plates, but I struggle to connect with people on a
meaningful level. But your hands, even on a billboard, even in a magazine, even
on a screen – they make me feel like I am being nurtured by another person. You
have a gift. May I please touch them?’

He reaches out to me and I pull my hands away.




Warning Systems

Picture Credits: Stefan Keller

Warning systems

4 hours before: The first sign is deep in the earth, a
tremble becoming a tremor. There is time to flee to higher ground.

 49-year-old Xavier Da
Sousa leans backs in his 22nd floor Canary Wharf office, sinking into his first
Glenfiddich of the day. The slight tremor in his right hand causes drops of
amber liquid to bounce off the edge of his Waterford crystal glass. He picks
them up, one by one, with a wetted finger, the way his father chased grains of
rice even in the throes of Parkinson’s. He tastes earth, and ash.

In the end, he needn’t have worried. He outlives them all.

 45-year-old Elisabeth
Da Sousa smiles through the aftershocks from her second ever orgasm, enjoying
the tremors rolling deep in her belly. The purple-haired woman sprawled across
her runs a pale hand over her dimpled brown thighs. This newly discovered
pleasure feels so undeserved she takes it as retribution that this is what she
was doing as the wave gathered pace.

Eventually, she dies alone in her Richmond garden flat, dreaming
of a woman she can’t name.

2 hours before: Then, water may recede from the coast, exposing the ocean floor, reefs and
fish. Some escape routes may be cut off.

22-year-old Mary Da Sousa drops the coral earrings she’s
borrowed from her mother into the  sink at
Café Rouge, an attempt at returning them to their original habitat. She throws
her blue plastic hairnet in after, an expert at the right dramatic gesture to
use before leaving a room. She takes the expression on her ex-manager’s face
and the clapping of her former co-workers as her due.

Ultimately, when she returns herself to the ocean ten years
later in unnecessary sacrifice, it’s only accompanied by the shushing of the
waves.

 22-year-old Marcus Da
Sousa scrubs the last piece of grime from the empty tropical fish tank that was
the twins’ joint 12th birthday present. His father wanted to replace
them but it wouldn’t have been the same. He talks to Maggie, the long dead Forktail
Rainbow fish, the way he always did when his bronchitis flared up. He talks
about it the most after, the space that’s left, he’s even interviewed, holding
back tears, on local TV.

So the painful way his lungs fill with water for the final
time makes it into the papers, the son of the financial genius, the brother of
a teenage mermaid.

 19 yr old Magdalena
Da Sousa, Maggie to her friends, lies back on the deserted white sand beach,
and puts in her headphones. It’s how she’s always dealt with the arguments she
lives in, whether the voices in her house were too loud or too quiet, or when
she needed to recharge. She’s started ‘Their Eyes are Watching God’ in the
middle and already read the last page, something that her brother, her favourite
teacher, would frown about. She immerses herself in Janie Crawford’s life.

  She never knows
she’s exactly 30 minutes from solid ground.

29 minutes before: An
approaching tsunami creates a wall of water and loud “roaring” sound
similar to that of a train or jet aircraft, unmistakeable if you can hear it.
Run.




The Poetry of Snow

Picture Credits: vagueonthehow

Snow drifted across the windshield, broad blank flakes that outdid the wipers, their pendulum motions dulled to juddering flailing. Eventually we pulled up alongside the train tracks and turned our faces toward the hidden mountains, running the windows down zip-zap quick to get whatever stilted view there was. We passed boxes of crackers and a lukewarm flask between us in comfortable silence and then, without much in the way of discussion, we made love on the back seat, cheeks pressed damply together.

The old saloon
wagon became like a womb, covered in the skin of ice, sheltering our raw
nakedness from the worst of the chill as we rocked together. The radio played
up to my imaginings offering muffled pinches of show-tunes from way out over
the valley; carpet-slipper tapping classics of a kind old folk enjoy. I sighed
and pressed my ear to Michael’s chest, feeling the hair tickle my helix like a
delicious, whispered secret. His roughened palm stroked up and down my back and
then, after a time, his fingers began creeping into the narrow gully of my
buttocks to signal that he wanted me again. I pretended to be asleep, not
because I didn’t want him but because the shy little spanks he imparted in his attempt
rouse me sent my blood rushing from my head, thawing me out and turning my
climates tropical in ways I had clean forgotten could be done. I was glad of
Michael then, and I showed it until he was spent and quivering in my arms.

Darkness had
gathered around us, but in a rare twist of nature the snow seemed to trap and
hold the last of the light a little longer than usual and I used it to try (and
eventually fail) to read the map he held out to me. Michael was smiling
encouragingly so I pretended to know what I was about and forced my unsteady agreement
with the coloured lines and penned stars. Stalling for time, I twisted to get
another cracker and the zip of his hoodie slid cool and firm against my nipple.
I looked him up and down and he put his hand in the shaggy nest of my hair; by
the time we were finally ready to drive on darkness was upon us in full, the
map forgotten.

When I let him
out at the motel, he thanked me for a nice time and for the ride along. I
thanked him for a nice ride and for passing time along. It was silly and I felt
like a goose for saying it, but he just looked at me a little funny, like all
the emotion in him was welling up and he didn’t know why. “You driving back
this way? Tomorrow maybe?”

I told him I
was not and let his disappointment soothe my own aching chest and return some
strength to my sex-heavy limbs. I told him I was a drifter too and he nodded,
all solemn, as if our kind holds this knowledge as a sacred truth; not just a
happening of circumstance. My tyres and his boots crunched the same snow, a
million individual snowflakes all coming together ready to be faded away in due
course. I could see the poetry of it but I had no desire for it to change. Drifters
never do.




Leeches

Picture Credits: Theresa McGee

When I was 7, I witnessed my first death. We were at
the cottage when my cousin Sebastian found, trapped and tortured a leech on the
dock. My mother took this opportunity as teachable moment; not about how some
young boys can be cruel and violent or how others will try and beat the ugly
out of this world but of how these parasitic, predatory worms are super
resistant, strong, “can even resist torture,” she said. When the boys left, I
built a home for the suffering leech, of sticks and mud and a red leaf for the
roof. Shortly after, the leech died. Sebastian returned to steal the dead from
its home, to use as bait to catch fish, he said. I strongly resisted but
failed. Sebastian wouldn’t listen to reason. Sebastian was a killer I guess. I
remember crying so much that afternoon, throwing a tantrum so severe that
Sebastian enlisted my grandfather into finding a replacement leech. They went
off into the lake. Just after dinner, when the sun was setting, my cousin and
grandfather returned with two long, beautiful, speckled leeches.

            I had permission to bring them home
as long as they were returned the following weekend. During that time, I cared
for them, brought them to show and tell at school. A new addition to my friend
group, to our tea parties and adventures. I kept them in a bucket of sand and
weeds. Aunt Margaret closed the cottage as the summer came to an end and we never
got the chance to return the leeches to the lake. I wondered if they were mad
at me for taking them from their home. A profound guilt came over me. I was to
protect them from an uncertain future, I told myself, from the cruel boys and
the fish that wanted them dead. I kept them for two months.

Leeches can go a long time without eating but by the
end October, I started noticing how they weren’t as active, as responsive. I
thought about placing my little hand in the leech bucket and letting them suck
at it for a while but I couldn’t stomach it. I was getting concerned. Winter
was quickly approaching and my babies were starving to death. I tried feeding
them meat, raw meat, even the blood from raw meat. Nothing.

            My mother got worried that they
would die. That the trauma from their death would cause irreparable damage; foreshadowing
a future of bad relationships and loose morals. “Trauma can do that,” she told
my dad quietly. My mother called the Museum of Nature for some advice. She
spoke to a woman that specialized in creepy crawlers, in leeches. “Leeches only
feed on live mammals,” she said. In their exhibit, they fed them mice. I don’t
think I could stomach that either. The museum people told us that we would have
to put them in the fridge over the winter so that they could hibernate. Mom
didn’t want that. However, the museum had an upcoming workshop on creepy
crawlers. They told us to bring our little friends and that they would keep
them in their exhibit if they were a fit, or else, release them. I was happy.
My leeches had found a home, of glass and fame.

            Workshop day had arrived, and one of
my leeches escaped. I was destroyed again. I yelled at everyone to watch where
they were stepping or so help me god. Mom said they could sense water. When she
came home, she looked under the rug in the corner of the house facing the
biggest body of water, the river. My leech was there, alone and shriveled up,
but still alive. We quickly rushed them to the museum. There we met with the
leech specialist and compared leeches. Mine were much more beautiful, they were
mine. Theirs were small and grey. Mine were big, dark green, with a dotted
vermillion line along their backs. “They slid like pretty ribbons through
water,” I told them. The museum agreed to take them. They went even further and
gifted me free admissions passes, inviting my entire class to come see them in
their new home. A few months later we took a school field trip to the Museum of
Nature for the creepy crawler exhibit. My leeches were easy to spot amongst the
others. They were the prettiest.   




The Sea is Wild

Picture Credits: Michal Jarmoluk

The gale-force wind
shrieks, whipping up nausea and pain. We gasp as the boat lists. Blood is
seeping down my nose ― now and then it dries up for a while and then starts
again, sometimes slowly, sometimes black. Sleep doesn’t come easy; when it
does, it gives no rest. The only thing I know is my story will, sooner rather
than later, end up at the bottom of the sea.

When the bullets
started to explode, there was no echo. The air was dead, but the echo formed
inside my head; the echo echoed my fear and the fear turned into nosebleed. I
held my breath, I shut my eyes, I pressed my fingers hard on my ears. Within a
few minutes, I lost all the men in my life: my father, three uncles, two
brothers, four cousins, six nephews and my father’s father. I couldn’t see how
it was done. They were either in a hurry, or the gods were kind to me:
they didn’t stop and look underneath the hut or torch it before they left. And
so when I, and then my mother, emerged into the night after the dripping of
blood had stopped (from the floor above), we were crushed by the sight of the
handiwork of these othermen.

We were too afraid
to stay to bury our dead. I couldn’t quite tell one from another, as all their
faces were gone ― except this was an adult and that a child. My seven nieces
were gone too; so were my three sisters, two aunts, five cousins and the wives
of my uncles. Even my two grandmothers. They’ve become trophies in a war that
nobody understands.

My mother and I
didn’t talk for days; all our words had died. Walking was all we could do,
until we saw, from a distance, the frothing sea. My mother had all her money in
a bag sewn on her inside vest. You go, I’ll come later, she said. She
only had enough to pay for a single fare.

I don’t remember
what I said to her; I don’t remember how I’ve come to this half-standing,
half-crouching pose, with all these other stinking bodies pressed against mine
in a dark dank dingy space. How I overcame my gut-wrenching sea-sickness I
can’t tell. Somebody tried to grope me, but too weak to do anything else. Some
went overboard, or perhaps were pushed. Children whimper; grown men weep.
Feeling has deserted me: my passion is gone, my compassion has disappeared. A
little girl somehow let herself fall into the water, vanishing without trace,
leaving her mother howling with pain. I hold my breath, I shut my eyes, I press
my fingers hard on my ears. The storm shrieks, we gasp as the boat lists. The
thought of dry land, the thought of my mother’s face.

I shall not be
singing lullaby to my children and their children: they’ll never be born; my
womb will stay empty. Their faces I want to see; they’re looking for me.

But there’s only
the sea: will the sea set me free?




A Week in the Country

The
passivity of her husband had been the thing that irked Amalia most throughout
their ten-year marriage. When a neighbour had planted a row of cypress trees at
the border of their estates, Georg had shrugged it off. We have more than
enough land, he’d reasoned, what is a few hundred feet to us? When their eldest
daughter had complained that her pianoforte lessons were too difficult, Georg
had indulged her, and allowed her to leave off. No point in making the poor
child miserable for an accomplishment that’s purely decorative, he’d smiled. He
hadn’t minded her decorative
accomplishments, Amalia had fumed.

Which
was why she was so shocked when Georg had turned up at her brother’s house in
Vienna, the week of her planned liaison with Captain Muller. George proceeded
to spend the week attending to Amalia’s every whim, dancing until their feet
were sore, riding out with her in her sister-in-law’s carriage, even reading
poetry with her in the library, until Amalia quite forgot all about Fritz and
his lasciviously curling golden locks. Georg had begun to reveal shades of the
man he’d been when they first married married, and Amalia’s curiosity had grown
until it was a pleasure to spend time with him.

On
their last day, the men decided to get up a shooting party. The women protested
– it was foggy, the season was almost over, why traipse into the country for
the dregs? Captain Muller was injured, and carried home screaming and thrashing
in a manner most unbefitting an army captain suffering a mere flesh wound. Amalia
felt more than a little repelled by his behaviour, and watched anxiously for
her husband.

‘What
a horrid accident,’ remarked Amalia absent-mindedly, as she and Georg climbed
into their carriage for the station.

‘It
was certainly horrid, that’s for sure,’ replied her husband.

Amalia
laughed as she settled herself amongst her furs. ‘Why, Georg, whatever do you –

Georg
fixed his young wife with a grim stare, and she stopped laughing.




My Mother’s Tongue is Balkan

My mother’s English jerks like a mare that has sighted the Danube. Her tongue is tied with white lace and folktales and the song of Balkan crones and nymphs around a forest fire. My mother’s tongue speaks one language but is understood by all. Her tongue always gives her away like a “runaway bride” or one of the other “Americanisms” she has learned after arriving in the land of the dead Last Mohicans. She is always troubled by her treacherous un-conforming mouth parts, but mostly by her ancestry. My mother, she says, “fruet” instead of normal fruit, and researches how best to pickle plums in America and “where can one find good cow-cheese for burek?”

She says mila, dear sweet girl – come here, help me with these stolen Mohican words.” She chews on a Bic while comparing Cyrillic and Latin letters in her copybook and her blue eyes take on the color of ink. She sighs, “I am stupid. Never did well in school, or perhaps it’s early Alzheimer’s like that of my great-great aunt Vera. She too, died alone in a foreign country that didn’t want her because of her tongue. Imagine, I survived a war, and your father’s hate and my fear of the American man, but am afraid of their alphabet – mostly W – demonic letter that it is.”

And she then calls me Mila, like my grandmother’s name, and it
sounds like poetry but then she says “wacuum” pulling V over the words with a
sucking that feels like a death rattle each time, like something that might
finally kill her is stuck in her long neck. My mother’s Ws are hard but she is
a Durmitor rock and her words are
fragments – she speaks like she wants to forget the vowel-less language of her
ancestors and the shape of their black mountains.

Later, at the 7-Eleven we stop for
a crushed ice slushy and when she asks for wet
wipes
she trembles, spilling words like quarters from a Blue purse that is
embroidered with a single rose that is Red. My mother’s tongue was molded in
the Balkans; she can only hear the strumming of a tamburitsa song in her mind.