I don’t sleep, nor am I fully awake.
I say that because to awaken suggests a movement between the conscious and unconscious realms, and I do neither.
No what I would call it is a sort of unbroken awareness, a sustained sentience in which my being experiences the perpetual passage of events without disruption, dream or distraction.
For a time I thought this was illusionary, and that breaks in my cognizance were so imperceptible I just didn’t notice them.
But I developed a method to test this, incorporating the movement and space I now find myself in.
The space is dark but possesses depth, rolling cumulus formations fracturing and dissolving into pathways pulsating with vibrant and varying tones of black.
At first I thought my existence was affixed to a single point, and that I was hovering in place supported by some unknown force.
But I soon realized these distinct corroding splotches of darkness were slowly moving past me, so I decided to use the itinerant environment as a measure of whether I would occasionally descend into unconsciousness.
I would focus on a particular formation, a dim drifting gelatinous glacier outlined in a radiating ripple of lighter hues, watching as the swollen mass floated past and sometimes even through me, eventually enmeshing itself into the ever-growing lattice of breathing black.
As one formation would pass I would focus on another, repeating the action to see if the composition combusted or the surrounding surfaces shifted, suggesting an unobserved passage of time.
As of this moment though, everything has flowed in unbroken succession.
However, I cannot be entirely certain that my being has always resided in this state for I distinctly remember the blink; the moment when the darkness and the space became apparent.
It was slight, a miniscule movement in which sensation surfaced, creating the vision of void whose optics operate on awareness and impression rather than any clear illustration.
In that instant, what I came to know as thought forcefully flooded into me, calcifying and cementing itself leaving me confused but able to understand and probe my own confusion.
Even now I am baffled as to how I am producing these words, or that they are even called words or are necessary elements in understanding the emotions echoing from the cavernous confines of what I suppose you would call a mind.
For the longest time I assumed I was alone, hearing only the reverberation of my own thoughts which I am still unclear as to whether they exist solely in the cavity of this cerebrum, or are spoken and sent to sprout within the surrounding streams of shadow.
But a moment came, when exactly I couldn’t tell you as time ceases within darkness, when I became aware of another entity.
Initially I assumed this to be my imagination; a misleading manifestation from meandering meditations.
The harmony of thought can be quite loud, and I had grown so accustomed to the cadence of my cravings, the rhythms of desire that drip from the spheres of exhaustion, that I believed the voice I was hearing to be a phenomenon of illusion, a stray lost self whose momentary light was now just reaching me despite having died long ago.
What gave me pause however was how different the voice was from my own; an amalgam of absence where the few forgotten shards of gender and emotion clang along the encompassing vacuum to form the hollow echoing strands of an unspooling sound.
As with my experiments in awareness I began to test the voice, remaining silent for lengthy durations, dulling my desires into the deaf blackness to the point where I would teeter on the edge of disappearance, causing the voice to exclaim out of desperation, “Where are you? Why aren’t you talking to me?”
So, after establishing the authenticity of the entity, I entered into often enlightening exchanges, alternating between consequential conversation and periodic persiflage to reveal our many similarities; a ceaseless consciousness, birth through the breath of a blink and an uncertain fluctuating form absorbing the attributes of nomadic nothingness.
Why we had not come across each other sooner we didn’t know, but thought it was possible that our paths had perambulated, and that the unsettled umbra through carelessness or calculated aggression had erased the eventful experiences in an effort to hold us hostage in the growing gloom.
Setting aside this anxiety, we found solace in the stretches of silence we would knowingly sink into, hovering comfortably in the currents of celestial shroud whose fading fabric warmed our weariness and perhaps for the first time elicited emotions possessing the particles elementary to the foundations of possibility; constellations of crumpling kernels littering our minds with the rudimentary reflections of what we imagined to be light.
We continued moving in this manner, until a moment came when we discovered a distant piece of debris drifting towards us.
At first we were confused, watching as this recondite piece of radiant refuse took on the qualities of an eye, the polished pupil penetrating the careening pall, shedding its flaring fat and mutating the mass into a rounded shape; an urn unleashed in the ubiquitous black.
As it finally reached us, we realized it was an entanglement of timber; bits of bumpy serrated bark woven into what you might call a sort of table, and on top of this mussy mound rested a pair of binoculars.
The lenses gleamed from the glow of our perception, luminous mites of reality feeding on the skin of sleep and awakening the atoms necessary and inherent to the inception of imagery.
Instinct overtook us, and despite our lack of detectable limbs we somehow procured the object into our possession through the vibrant vigor of will, allowing the appendages of abstraction to synthesize supposition.
We took turns gazing through the glass, the macrocosm magnified, opening elongated orbs erupting with the pulsations of cosmic current.
Within these spheres, rippling surges surfaced; sparks flaring and briefly forming strangely familiar faces quickly fading back into the battered beat from which they blossomed.
A short time later, or perhaps not, another wayward ware materialized and wafted towards us; a window, its wooden frame chipped and the specs of splinter burrowing upward into the bobbing brume.
Since the window was still some distance away, we used the binoculars to penetrate the pristine panes and beyond them appeared what our calculating consciousness concluded to be a woman; her face obscured as she leaned back in a chair, features kneaded like dough by the limbs of living room light.
We didn’t know whether the window was orbiting us or we the window, but were forced to pause for prolonged periods while we waited for the inevitable intersection to initiate again.
Each time we found the woman engaged in a vague variety of everyday experiences; cleaning curtains, drubbing the cushions of a davenport, painting portraits onto porcelain cups, striking the strings of a sihu and weeping as she rested her head against a wavy wall.
Gradually, she started to shrivel, succumbing to the hungry humidity of age, her flesh falling and freezing, carved capsules of crystal spilling and splaying into the shadows that slithered through the threads of her tattered clothing.
Soon there was only the room, and the rising rays of a mournful mist whose mouth broke and fractured along the forgotten furniture.
We’ve continued to drift, the window gone and our minds moving through malleable murk, the sustained silence becoming so severe that it assumes the element of unbearable sound.
But just a short distance ago, at least we think so, another voice vaporously descended into the void.
Now there are three of us.
Eight Days with the Yakatori Sisters by Jennifer Juneau
I hated supermarkets and everything associated with them. Even the sight of the couponladen circular each week threw me into a tailspin. I stopped watching television because supermarket jingles made me break into a sweat. But no matter how abstruse the aversion grew I found myself in a supermarket in a suburb of Boston not far from my apartment. An old college roommate was in town and since I cooked the meals in our off-campus apartment, I wanted to reminisce with a dessert she loved. It required lychee nuts. Which is why I made a beeline to the fruit and vegetable section the minute I entered the store. I planned to go in and out under sixty-seconds flat. When I discovered that there weren’t many lychees left I attempted to scoop them all in one handful but in my haste one fell and when I bent to pick it up a small Japanese man emerged out of nowhere and stood in front of the crate for what seemed an eternity. I waited as he stood inspecting what was left of the lychees. I thought lychee nuts were something Chinese people used in cooking. He was Japanese. Then I remembered that I was buying lychees too and I was neither Chinese nor Japanese, but an idiot passing judgment on foreigners in the land of the free.
I wish I were magnanimous. I wish I were the type who concludes, Oh well, shit happens. But the ding-dong of the intercom followed by the grandiose voice announcing a two-for-one sale on chocolate pudding in aisle five pulverized my nerves and, didn’t I say Excuse me sir? Maybe. Maybe the plea was inaudible or the man didn’t understand English or he was a stickler because he didn’t budge, so I muscled up beside him and gave him a sharp nudge in the ribs. He didn’t flinch. I gave him another. Then he did. Then he bent forward to smell the lychees. He kissed them. He French kissed them and suddenly I was knocked aside by a lady, who I surmised was his wife, grabbing his shoulders, muttering something in his ear in an inexplicable tongue that got louder and louder and finally hysterical until I realized that the man was neither smelling nor kissing the lychees but having a seizure. His black rimmed eyeglasses fell to the floor and I picked them up. Then I yelled Help. I mean, I screamed it in a guilt-ridden I-am-a-good-person kind of way that said I would never bully any member of the human race who was blocking the food product I’d like to covet, especially if it turned out that he was an epileptic. Or had some other dormant disease that finally surfaced. A clever prepared-for-anything super mom with five kids in tow whipped out her cell phone and dialed nine-one-one. In the end, when the paramedics arrived and after the woman with the five children left, the wife approached me and thanked me for yelling Help. I handed her her husband’s glasses and told her it was nothing, because it wasn’t anything, and she said it was something and we went back and forth until I said, “If there’s anything else I could do.” Which there probably wasn’t because she jumped into the ambulance with her stretchered husband, but then she tossed me her car keys, described the Honda in the first spot in the parking lot and told me to meet her at the general hospital. I stood, keys in hand, mouth agape. “The name’s Yakatori,” she said. The ambulance door slammed shut, sirens and red lights ablaze, and they were on their way.
As if I had nothing better to do on the first Saturday in weeks that the sun proved it still existed. Besides, what about my car? Didn’t Mrs. Yakatori think of that? Even though I’d taken the tram shopping because I didn’t own a car. Still, she didn’t consider it. Then I considered this: this woman is frightened for her husband’s health and here I am, the accommodating American inquiring if there was anything I could do, which Americans sometimes ask rhetorically, and she called me on it by saying Yes.
Not having driven a stick shift in years I bucked the Yakatori’s Honda to the hospital through Boston traffic. When I arrived I found Mrs. Yakatori in the waiting room and Mr. Yakatori in a coma. “I don’t understand it,” she said, “he seemed healthy.”
“Surely he had an illness, no?” I said.
“That’s what the doctors are going to find out,” she said, “but nothing I am aware of.” I wanted to offer my well-wishes and take off like a hit-and-run but she handed me a slip of paper. “Here is my address,” she said. I must have turned ashen because she said, “You asked me what you could do.” She’s right. I did. I looked at the address. She lived in a posh neighborhood a few blocks from my apartment. “I won’t leave my husband’s side,” she said. Then it dawned on me: as when a neighbor is on vacation, I’d retrieve her mail. I’d water a plant.
“My name is Dora,” I said. “What would you like me to help you with?”
“Go to my house tonight, Dora, and cook my daughters supper.” I wondered how old her daughters were. Old enough to stay home alone but not old enough to cook their own supper. “I stay the night in hospital,” she said. “Is it no trouble?” “No trouble?”
I snickered. “Shall I pack you a suitcase too?”
“Yes,” she said. “And don’t forget my toothbrush.” A nurse approached Mrs. Yakatori and they became engrossed in conversation.
“Oh, Dora,” she called over the nurse’s shoulder as I was leaving, “I will phone my daughters to tell them you are coming.”
I gave up cooking years ago after college when I gave up supermarkets. Nevertheless, I went. I went to Mrs. Yakatori’s house in attempt to cook her daughters’ supper to absolve myself from the diabolical act of nudging a man in the ribs who prolonged my miserable existence in the fruit and vegetable section at a supermarket. Especially now that the poor guy was sick.
I drove until I reached the block where the Yakatoris lived. Each colonial-style home debased my lifestyle. I pulled in front of the second to last house on the left. It was more prominent than the others with a circular driveway and two white columns at the front door. The Yakatori house was made of brick. The front door was painted red with a gold knocker.
An overnight bag waited by a wooden replica of a birdhouse which was their mailbox. On the mailbox roof stood a red velvet bird with a note taped to its beak from the Yakatori girls asking me to bring the overnight bag to their mother. The girls had other arrangements for dinner, the note said, and for me to wait outside.
I waited and waited and waited for—what? I wasn’t sure. Maybe they were cooking me something splendid to take away for comforting their mother. Then a pizza delivery truck pulled up.
“Are you Dora?” the delivery boy said.
“Yes,” I said, “why?”
“That’ll be twenty dollars,” he said.
“I didn’t order a pizza,” I said.
“You’re Dora, right?” I nodded.
“It says on the delivery slip that Dora will be outside to pay for the pizza.” He showed me the slip. It said that Dora will be outside to pay for the pizza. I automatically gave him twenty dollars. I did as I was told since I was a kid. It was the only way I knew to survive. It just made life, I don’t know, easier.
I had nothing left for a tip, and while the boy took the pizza to the red door I fled back to the intensive care unit with Mrs. Yakatori’s overnight bag. She’d fallen asleep on a chair by Mr. Yakatori’s bedside and I left the bag with a nurse. My old roommate called to say she’d managed to get tickets to the Boston Ballet for her and her daughter. She couldn’t make it after all. I said I understood. Truth was, my head was still spinning with the Yakatori incident and I didn’t care. Besides, I never did buy the lychee nuts.
Day 1 Sunday
I phoned the hospital first thing the next day to check on Mr. Yakatori. “Critical but stable,” said the nurse. I rushed to the hospital to drop off their car.
When I entered the intensive care unit, I eyed Mrs. Yakatori and her daughters through a window. A rush of sadness washed over me.The two girls, about sixteen, held each one of their mother’s hands. Instinctively, Mrs. Yakatori turned and her face elapsed into a smile. The girls turned too and they came to greet me.
“How’s Mr. Yakatori?” I said to Mrs. Yakatori, handing her the car keys. “Did they find anything?”
“Not yet,” she said. “Oh, these are my twins, Maya and Winona.” I shook their hands. “How was the pizza?” Before one of them had a chance to answer Mrs. Yakatori chimed in, “I meant to thank you, Dora. How much do I owe you?”
“Twenty dollars,” I said. She went for her purse.
When she returned she didn’t hand me money she handed me a map. “There is something else I need you to do, Dora.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I cannot leave my husband,” she said. She gently placed the car keys in my palm. “Could you please pick my girls up tomorrow morning and take them to school?” I looked at the twins. They were so sweet in their matching floral sundresses! I thought, if I had twins I’d want them to be exactly like the Yakatori sisters. “Yes, of course!” I said. I was smitten. She added that if I could drive her daughters to school every day for as long as her husband would stay in the hospital, she would be grateful. The arrangement was this: she would hold vigil by Mr. Yakatori’s bedside. I’d pick up the girls from their house at seven a.m., drop off Winona at art school on the way to the city, then drive Maya several more miles to the music academy in the city. Since the girls started and ended school at different hours, they would each take a tram directly to the hospital after school to visit their father. At which point, their mother would eat dinner with them at the hospital, then the girls would take the tram back home and Mrs. Yakatori would remain at Mr. Yakatori’s bedside until the pattern started again the next day. I’d use their car. “OK,” I agreed, “no problem.” Compassion tugged at me. It was the least I could do.
“Any questions?” she said. I wondered why the girls couldn’t take a tram to school.
“I bet you wonder why the girls can’t take a tram to school,” she said.
“No, I don’t,” I said. “Honest.”
I was not a morning person. I was a penury-stricken graduate student whose father still paid my tuition and rent and I should have completed my graduate degree years ago. I spent my nights studying and surfing the net. Besides, how long could anyone be detained in a coma?
I drove to the girls’ house that evening to get to know them, at Mrs. Yakatori’s request. As I downed a bacon cheeseburger and a box of onion rings, I basked in the luxury of driving a car. As if taking respite from public transportation weren’t enough, there must be compensation for driving the girls to school. I daydreamed that the Yakatoris were royalty in disguise and if I remained at their side until Mr. Yakatori snapped out of it, they’d pay me back in riches. Forget earning a graduate degree to find a well-paying job! I’d live on the Yakatori fortune and go on an expensive vacation. I’d buy a car. I was spending the reward money fast: I was the maiden in Aesop’s fables who carried the eggs on her head while she daydreamed of fame and fortune. Only I wouldn’t slip.
The living room was decorated in antiques with pillows strewn about, plants and Persian rugs. Winona served herbal tea and both girls told me about themselves. They were thirteen. They looked older and were brilliant. They both studied at private institutions on scholarship. Maya attended a music academy in Boston and Winona studied visual arts at an acclaimed college on the outskirts. Both girls were academically advanced for their age and I learned that their education was the reason why the family came to America. I sat in the middle of the two, Winona showed me her artwork while Maya showed me photographs of their home in Tokyo. I inquired what their father did for a living. They said their mother was the breadwinner, she owned her own business. The mood was jovial and I didn’t want to leave—as I was a distraction from their father’s grim predicament—but it was getting late.
“Well girls,” I said, placing my tea cup on the coffee table, “I’ve got to go. You’ll be all right?”
They looked at each other and Winona nodded to Maya. Maya ran upstairs and Winona proceeded to show me out. “I’ll see you tomorrow at seven,” I said, “good night.”
“Wait!” Maya rushed to the front door with two canvas bags and handed them to me.
“What’s this?” I said.
“Our dirty laundry,” she said.
“Laundry?” I looked at one twin, then the other. “You want me to do your laundry?”
“Yes,” Maya said.
“Why can’t you do it?” I said.
“Because we’re thirteen,” Winona said.
“We have better things to do,” Maya said.
“Yeah,” Winona said, “we have a life.” “But—”
“We’re tired,” Maya said.
“We’re sad because our father is sick,” Winona said. “Good night.”
They shut me out. I had no time to think. I had laundry to do.
Day 2 Monday
The twins were fraternal, did I mention that? Which meant they didn’t have to look alike. Which meant it was easier to tell the difference between them than if they were identical. It was as if they weren’t twins at all! I’d be a moron if I mixed them up, which I must have been because I mixed them up once. OK, twice. Even though Maya the musician had jet black hair down to her hips and Winona the artist had short cropped hair with ferocious red stripes, I thought Maya was Winona and Winona was Maya the first morning I picked them up for school. They didn’t say hello. They must have been tired because they were talkative last evening at their house. Both girls stood on either side of the car.
“The doors are unlocked,” I said. They said nothing but waited until I opened the car doors for them. “One of you could sit up front with me.”
“No thanks,” they said. The car didn’t have a GPS.
“Why doesn’t your car have a GPS?” I asked either one of them.
“Our father scorns technology,” Winona said, “he’s set in his ways.”
“Besides,” Maya said, “nobody likes being told what to do.”
Both girls read books as we drove in silence until I dropped off Winona. Who I thought was Maya. Maybe I was the tired one. I was up all night doing laundry. First I was to drive to the spot on Mrs. Yakatori’s map illustrating the first drop off point with a circled number one which was the art college for Winona. Next, I was to drive to the spot with a circled number two, which was the music academy for Maya. I was making conversation with whichever girl remained when I elapsed into a self-deprecating spiel about my dabbling in art for a semester back in undergrad school and how I had flunked. That nobody ever failed art, subjective as it was, and that I was the first student ever, my professor said, to get an F. I told the presumed Winona, as I referred to her as Winona throughout the conversation, or in this case I was conversing with the dashboard, that, from artist to artist, she could identify. Creative as I was, my work wasn’t recognized—and—did she ever have a moment like that?
I glanced in my rearview mirror to capture the fake Winona’s reaction. There was a smirk on her face. Truth was, she was gloating as I humiliated myself. I mean, only an artist, a person studying visual arts, I stammered, could understand the trepidations of, well, failed art. When I dropped her off, I opened the door for her, as I did for her twin sister or else neither one would have gotten out. I gathered her belongings and handed them to her, said goodbye, and she said nothing except, “I’m not Winona.”
Late that evening, out of curiosity, I checked to see if the Yakatori sisters were on Facebook. Their profiles were public. Maya’s profile picture was a selfie. She had on a tight black dress to accentuate her stick thin figure and her face was heavily made up. Winona’s picture was simply a collage of her artwork. I viewed their photographs and read their timelines. Some posts were in Japanese, some in English (many boys flirted with them and used expletives) and I watched YouTube song posts of punk bands I never heard of, etc., etc., until I scrolled down on Maya’s timeline to discover a status update that read, If I ever become a garrulous middle-aged loser who knows squat about art, shoot me of which received fifty-five “Likes.” I was taken aback—was she referring to me? Number one, I wasn’t middle-aged and number two, I wasn’t garrulous. OK, I admit at times I am a walking run-on sentence. Still, I didn’t mean to be garrulous to her. It was meant for Winona.
Winona’s Facebook timeline wasn’t as offensive—she may have been the nicer twin, I may be wrong. I logged out before I’d have a chance to find out.
Day 3 Tuesday
I tried to get those girls to like me. I bought them croissants Tuesday morning. I scraped up change I found in jeans’ pockets (jeans belonging to them of which I extracted items like lip gloss and coins before throwing them in the washer.) What can I say? I made less than minimum wage. Less meant nothing so I had nothing. The twenty dollars I used to pay for the girls’ pizza was all the money I had until I received my father’s monthly check which should arrive any day. Which sucked. Which I could pay the rent and my tuition but barely eat.
When I handed them the bakery bag, they didn’t take it. Maya pronounced that dairy was nasal-clogging and the abundance of butter combined with carbohydrate would materialize into fat, and the mucus would quell her windpipes hindering her stellar ability to perform. Thus, no croissant.
“But you play the violin,” I said. “You don’t need windpipes.”
“No croissant,” she said and held her hand up.
“I’m a vegan,” Winona said. “I don’t eat animals or anything that comes out of their bodies. Livestock production leads to environmental disaster, deforestation, pollution.”
“Let’s just say breeding animals for food is a threat to the planet,” Maya interrupted.
“Both of you ate pizza Saturday night,” I said. “What about that?”
“It was cheeseless,” one of them said.
“With veggies,” the other one said.
That evening I received a text message from Maya saying that she needed her royal blue silk blouse for a violin solo she was performing in school at ten on Thursday morning. It had to be dry cleaned. (She must have missed the memo stating what dry cleaning chemicals did to the planet.) I hadn’t retrieved the last load of the girls’ laundry from the washer yet and when I did I found her blouse. It appeared smaller than I remembered. And crinkly. No problem, I thought. I’d bring it to the twenty-four hour dry cleaners in the morning at eight o’clock after drop off then pick it up at eight Thursday morning on the way home from driving the twins and run it back over to Maya’s school. She’d have it before ten. How easy it was to manage teenaged girls! You just had to think.
That night I poured myself a glass of cheap wine and logged onto Facebook to see what the twins were up to. Maya announced her impending violin performance and bragged how she was chosen for a solo out of twenty-four other students, which elicited eighty “Likes.” I drank another glass of wine then another. Winona’s status update revealed that her father was still in a coma and her mother remained a pillar of strength and that each night she and her sister read his unconscious being stories from his favorite book by lamplight. The status update reeled in sixty-four heartfelt comments. This propelled me to call Mrs. Yakatori.
“I’m awake,” she said. “Mr. Yakatori still sleeping in coma.”
“That must really suck,” I said, half drunk. She agreed. We hung up.
Day 4 Wednesday
Wednesday confused the hell out of me. This time we had to drop off Maya first, since she had an exam and wanted the extra time to study. Or practice. Or whatever she needed to do. Since we had to leave a half hour earlier, Winona’s school did not open their doors until a half hour after we would drop Maya off, therefore, I had to back track. I had to get to the dry cleaners with Maya’s blouse before ten so I could collect it before ten the next day in time for her violin solo.
We wove through rush hour traffic in Boston to get Maya to the music academy, then we got stuck in traffic due to construction on the way back to Winona’s art school. This is the second time I mixed them up.
When we arrived, I gathered Winona’s things and waited for her to get out of the car while she applied black lipstick to her lips. She took her books from me but she wouldn’t take the violin case. “Don’t forget your instrument,” I said, pushing it at her. She stared at me quizzically.
“It’s not mine,” she said.
“Whose is it?” I said.
“Duh,” she said.
Which meant I’d have to drive all the way back to the music academy through traffic and I still had to get to the dry cleaners before ten. I did. Drive back I mean, because Maya would fail her test without her instrument, but I didn’t make it to the dry cleaners before ten which meant Maya wouldn’t have her blouse for her violin solo.
The music academy took on the grandeur of a palace. It smelled of brass and ointment and students congregated in their coteries here and there speaking in cerebral tones. Now and then notes and chords flowed in the distance. I waltzed through the hallways and found Maya chatting up a colleague outside a classroom. How relieved she’ll be when she sees me! And when she saw me I heroically held up the violin case. I was sure to win points in exchange for the screw-up with the silk blouse she’d soon learn about.
“I don’t need my violin today,” she said, her arms folded across her chest.
“You—you don’t?” I said, “but—”
“I told you I have a test,” she said, “like, all day.”
“Won’t you need to play music for your test?”
“It’s a written test,” she said, “on music theory.” She snatched the violin and walked away with her friend.
Boiling over Maya’s attitude, I procrastinated on my way to the dry cleaners and arrived at ten-thirty. The woman, Mrs. Chang, ran her business with an iron fist. She told me to come back tomorrow at ten-thirty to pick up the blouse. I supposed rules could be tampered with.
“Can’t you make an exception?” I said. “I need it at eight.”
“See sign?” she said. “It say twenty-four hour cleaning, not twenty-two and a half.”
And that was that. Maya would have to wear a different blouse. I softened and vowed to go through my closet to find something I could lend her. Who was I kidding?
That afternoon my father’s check arrived in the mail. I cashed it and bought a Big Mac and a bottle of wine. I poured a full glass and took to Maya’s Facebook page as I ate. I noticed that she had a boyfriend named Doug who was older than she and about to graduate from the music academy. Their banter was cute and I felt a particular respect and affection for her until another post read, Hey sexy bitch, does that porker still drive you to school? I looked away from my laptop. Porker? Then returned to Maya’s reply, Lol!!! She reeks of hamburgers! So gross! I stopped chewing and put my wine glass down. Winona commented with, Oooooh that’s soooo mean!! She’s not that gross. I logged off and tossed my burger in the garbage and gulped my wine, poured more and drank until the bottle was gone.
I sent Maya a text message telling her that I forgot to tell her earlier that her blouse wouldn’t be ready for her solo. That would fix her, I thought. Teenage girls can be quirky over their clothes—that I knew. She didn’t text back.
Day 5 Thursday
I hated those girls. I kept in mind that when this was over, however it would end, Mrs. Yakatori would reward me. I pulled in the Yakatori’s circular driveway the next morning and honked the horn. My eyes were glued to the front door wondering what Maya was going to come out wearing, I mean, what blouse she considered second best to the blue one she could not have. She came sauntering out wearing her royal blue silk blouse. I was dumbstruck. As we drove I looked at her through the rearview mirror. “Maya,” I said, “where’d you get your blouse? I mean, how?”
“Neiman Marcus,” she said, “but you couldn’t afford it.”
“I meant that the cleaners wouldn’t have it ready until later.”
“That was my blouse you took to the cleaners,” Winona said.
“Yeah, that was Winona’s blouse. My blouse was in my closet the entire time,” Maya said, “lucky me.”
I wanted out. But Mrs. Yakatori was so goddamned sweet and after all, her husband was fighting for his life. I prayed every night for Mr. Yakatori to snap out of it. Or die. For a split-second I thought that perhaps he’d be better off dead than to deal with girls like this, but I chided myself. Nobody should have to suffer daughters that much to want to die. Besides, it was clear that they loved their father and treated him with respect. Their Facebook pages told me so. I’m sure he was proud of their achievements and loved them too. I saw how he delicately handled the lychee nuts in the supermarket, although he hogged them until I elbowed him in the ribs because he refused to share. He was a gentle man. Selfish, but gentle.
That evening, I had a date. I wore Winona’s freshly cleaned royal blue blouse. The guy’s name was Rufus and I met him in a postmodern literature seminar. I wasn’t attracted to him, but it was something to do to get my mind off the twins.
Rufus came over with The French Lieutenant’s Woman DVD that we had to view for class. He brought beer and a pizza.
“I don’t eat dairy,” I said while I inserted the disc.
“Why not?” he said. “Dairy’s nasal-clogging. It clogs the windpipes,” I said. “The abundance of cheese combined with carbohydrates materializes into fat and mucus.” I felt so superior. “You should have gotten cheeseless,” I said, “with veggies.”
“Whatever,” he said. “Do you drink beer?”
He cracked a beer for me and my mouth watered as I watched him scarf down the hot pepperoni and mushroom pizza.
“I also play the violin,” I said. “Did I tell you that?” Two six packs of Molson later I murmured something strange as Rufus slobbered me with kisses and unzipped my jeans. I slurred about having to get up early. Something about having to pick up twins.
Day 6 Friday
Finally all the twins’ laundry was dry, ironed and folded. I stacked the piles neatly back into the canvas laundry bags. I was up since five a.m., hung over, my head pounded and I couldn’t sleep. I figured the faster I got things done, the faster I’d be rid of this stint.
A quarter to seven I was about to leave the house to pick up the twins when I noticed something sticking out from underneath the couch. It looked like a crumpled dinner napkin. Was it my underwear? Did it belong to Rufus? How far did I go? I realized it had doubled for a dinner napkin in some respect. It was Winona’s royal blue silk blouse. No, wait. It was Winona’s royal blue silk blouse turned pepperoni pizza stained disgusting shitty not worth crap blouse. Did I eat pizza? I don’t remember, as I tripped over an empty bottle of vodka, but Rufus did and I do recall wearing Rufus. In short, I ended up owing Winona three-hundred and seventy-five dollars.
I was ready to rip out my hair. I wanted Mr. Yakatori dead. I called Mrs. Yakatori to end our arrangement and when she answered the first thing she said was, “He squeezed my hand!” This was a good sign, she said, although he was not out of the woods. I couldn’t— wouldn’t—give up on her now, how could I? She had hope. It would be like Mr. Yakatori squeezing her hand. Then flatlining. I had to stick it out.
Day 7 Saturday
Finally a day off from chauffeuring the twins—until the phone woke me up at noon. It was Mrs. Yakatori. “Will you take the twins sailing today?” she said. Sailing? What else had I to do? Except finish writing my thesis which I’d been foot-dragging over. I imagined pushing one of the twins in the river.
“Why not?” I said, “I love sailing!” I never sailed in my life. In fact I hated water and couldn’t swim. My eyes weren’t open yet. “Just give me the details,” I said through a yawn.
She told me the twins were at the hospital now and since it was a lovely day she suggested a picnic by the Charles River then we’d rent a boat and go sailing. She told me to come get the girls as soon as I was ready. I had leftover cash from my father’s check and remembered to record the cost of the rental.
The twins picked on cucumber rolls and I, seeking to shed my burger chomping reputation, bought a salad at KFC. They drank sparkling water. I drank store-brand iced tea. The flavor was a phony lemon. It tasted like cat piss.
After lunch the twins stretched their ectomorphic bodies on the blanket to catch sunrays. I hoped they had forgotten about sailing.
“I thought we were going sailing,” Maya said.
“Don’t you need to rent a boat or something, Dora?” Winona said.
Only a quad kayak which held up to four adults was available. The rental cost was twenty-two dollars for one hour, or one-hundred and twenty dollars for the day, minimum one hour. Therefore, I would spend at least twenty-two dollars.
“Don’t you girls have money?” I said, fishing through my wallet.
“We’re thirteen,” Winona said.
“And we’re sad because our father is sick,” Maya said. I wasn’t sick but I was mad. I can’t even write this scene. Let’s just say we went kayaking. Let’s say someone fell into the river. Let’s say it wasn’t Winona and it wasn’t Maya who flailed for her life even though she wore a life vest while one of us lit a cigarette that she pulled from behind her ear and watched the bobbing moron. I don’t smoke. Neither does Maya.
I refused to log onto Facebook that night for fear I’d strangle one of them. I polished off a bottle of wine and dreamt I lived in a castle that looked like Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture. As I was sitting outside in my Japanese garden sipping herbal tea in a balmy breeze something came bellowing out of the sky resembling a two-headed bird monster and smashed my castle. Some sort of buzzer went off and it wouldn’t stop until I answered it.
Day 8 Sunday
Mr. Yakatori woke up! The nurse phoned me at eight a.m. to deliver the good news. Also, the Yakatoris would like to see me. I stumbled out of bed and threw on shorts and a T-shirt, slipped into flip-flops and was out the door.
When I arrived at the hospital the Yakatori women surrounded a cheerful Mr. Yakatori, who sat up in bed eating tapioca pudding. Mrs. Yakatori sensed my presence and waved for me to enter the room.
“Hi!” I said, “Mr. Yakatori, I’m glad you’re well!” Nobody spoke. The sun streamed through the window. It was a glorious day! I handed the car keys to Mrs. Yakatori. She stared at them, then looked at me. I was sure she was going say that I could keep their car as a reward for taking care of her daughters (at which point I was disappointed that they weren’t royalty after all.) I was humbled.
“Gee, Mrs. Yakatori,” I said, “I—”
“You want lychee?” she yelled. “You want lychee?”
“I’m sorry?” I said.
“I bet you are,” she said.
“Not,” Maya said.
“Whoa, take it easy,” I said.
“You’re pathetic,” Winona said.
“She flunked art in college, too,” Maya said to Winona.
“What kind of moron flunks art?” Winona said.
“I know, right?” Maya said. They surrounded me.
“W-t-f,” I said.
The doctor walked in. He looked like a Ken doll with a stethoscope.
“Are you Dora?” he said.
I swallowed hard. “I think so,” I said. What were the chances that I could not be Dora today?
“Here,” he said. “Fill out these forms please.” He handed me a clipboard with a pen attached to it.
“We’re billing you,” he said, “for Mr. Yakatori’s eight day stay. For nearly killing Mr. Yakatori.”
“All because of lychee nut,” Mrs. Yakatori said.
“I hope you have money,” Winona said, “lots of it. Or insurance.”
“I doubt it,” Maya said, looking me up and down.
I couldn’t believe this was happening.
“Your girls are a nightmare!” I snapped at Mrs. Yakatori. I pointed to Mr. Yakatori. “And your husband is a selfish man! And, and—” I couldn’t think of what else to say. My brain was a circuit of blown fuses and electric shorts.
“Leave the forms with the nurse, will you?” doctor Ken said, “I’ve got rounds to make.”
“My girls nightmare?” Mrs. Yakatori said. “They not nightmare, Dora. You nightmare.” Mr. Yakatori readjusted his glasses that had fallen down his nose and continued merrily tucking into his tapioca. I took one last look at them.
“I won’t pay for anything,” I said. “I’ve paid enough.” I threw the keys and the clipboard on the bed.
“Then we sue,” Mrs. Yakatori said.
“Then sue,” I said, “I’ve got nothing to lose.” Except, of course, everything I owned. And to think I was being sued by foreigners who were better off than I was in my own country. But that was that. I walked from the dismal medicated hallways of the hospital outside to a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and hopped on a tram to anyplace else (except the supermarket) without the Yakatori sisters. What was it about supermarkets that gave me anxiety anyway?
I wrote a story about one man’s near death experience because I became ensnared in consumer frenzy in front of a crate of lychee nuts, but I couldn’t write that man’s future and I couldn’t at that moment care. My story was not about him, as it would take the spotlight off the Yakatori sisters—heaven forbid.
In real life, I drive two sweet and polite Japanese girls to school every day, every other week, in a carpool arrangement. They are not anything like the Yakatori sisters.
David’s Photo Album by Ruth Deming
Never did we think my autistic brother, David, would end his own life. We knew he was supremely unhappy but we hardly thought “suicide” was in his vocabulary. Mom and I were shopping for fabric in the small town of Broadaxe, just beyond a stone railway bridge, half an hour away from the house where my widowed mother lived with David and my sister Ellen.
It was a steaming hot day in July, the day before Independence Day. It was also the month when my father died eight years earlier on July 13. Mom had her yahrzeit candle lit in her sunny kitchen with spider plants dangling from the windows. The candle would sputter out after twenty-four hours, just as my dad’s life did on that unforgettable day in 1980. I too got the notice from the funeral home but always ripped it up and threw it in the trash. I couldn’t bear that “Daddy” had left us at age 59 from a brain tumor.
We took Mom’s brown Oldsmobile as it was larger than mine and could hold the bolts of fabric we would choose to reupholster my very long living room couch. It was a sky-blue and like most other items in my house had once belonged to mother. I was fairly penniless but didn’t give a good goddamn. My mom was a generous woman.
Cruising effortlessly, I pulled into the large parking lot as mom had directed me.
“There’s a spot up there,” she pointed. I parked in a spot of my own choosing.
The moment we entered the bright fluorescent-lit fabric store, with homemade quilts lining the walls, we heard the phone ring. For some unknown reason, I thought the call was for us. I looked at my mom, a short plump woman about my size, with a huge mound of brown hair-sprayed tresses in a high bouffant. She was looking around and walking toward the rolls of fabric. This was her favorite fabric store. She was a gifted upholsterer and though she complained about how slow she was, she had refurbished, among dozens of other items, her Grandma Zali’s rocking chair. The wooden rocker must date back to the late 1800s.
We heard the crackle of the P.A. system coming on and then a tapping on the microphone.
“Is Mrs. Greenwold here?” asked the female voice. “Mrs. Bernice Greenwold?”
My immediate thought was of my sister Donna. She was always getting into trouble.
Mom took the phone and listened intently, staring down at the speckled brown linoleum floor. My sister Ellen was on the other end.
“Ellen,” she said in her firm voice, “call the police. The number is right there on the telephone.”
She hung up, thanked the woman and walked quickly toward the door. I followed, looking back longingly at the large wooden cutting tables where the fabric would be stretched and cut to size, knowing that my living room couch might have to wait a day or two before being recovered.
Mom told me what Ellen had said over the phone. It was not good news. I drove as fast as I could.
When we pulled into the drive, I stopped the brown Olds near the walkway into the house. Ellen bounded out the front door. Her pale blond hair was frizzy from the heat and her eyes were wide open with fright.
“Mom,” she said, as we walked into the house and stood inside the plant-filled hallway. I stared at a drooping philodendron.
Ellen’s voice was trembling. “I was downstairs in the kitchen eating some of your chocolate chips when I heard a crash in David’s bedroom. Like a dummy, I just stood there. I didn’t even go in.”
I looked at my mom.
“Then I called him, David, I mean, and he didn’t answer.”
“Finally I went up. His door was locked. That’s when I called you.”
“So,” I said. “The cops came out?”
“Yes, three of them. I recognized two of them from when they carried Daddy downstairs into the family room so he could lie in the hospital bed.”
A red ambulance had also pulled into the driveway, she told us, the same time as the police officers.
She explained they broke into David’s room, she was behind them, watching, and saw David lying on the floor next to his bed.
She saw that our little brother, the youngest of six, was not moving. Dressed in shorts and a striped shirt and barefoot, he was placed on a stretcher and carried out the front door.
Ellen reiterated she had last seen David in the kitchen. She was munching on chocolate chips and putting an English muffin in the toaster-oven when he came in. She looked his way, but, characteristically, he avoided looking at her. He went to the fridge and poured himself a glass of Tropicana orange juice.
“He took it to his bedroom,” she said breathlessly, “and that was the last time I saw him.”
Poor Ellen. She was wringing her hands and then plucking at her hair.
“I’ll never forget the sound of that thud,” she continued. “I hope to God he’s okay.”
“I’m sure he is,” said my mother. “Let’s go.”
As we walked back to the car, I thought briefly about my kids and their whereabouts. Sarah and was thirteen and Daniel, eleven. It was a Friday and Sarah would stay after school at her drama club and get a ride home. Dan would be over his best friend Mark’s with a bunch of their friends. They should both be fine.
We sped down Huntingdon Pike, as the hot July afternoon sun blazed onto our dark car.
“Put the A/C on,” said Ellen, from the back seat.
“You know I don’t like air-conditioning,” I said. “I’m the driver. Open your window.”
They were expecting us in the ER and put us in a small windowless room with a couch and some chairs. A crucifix hung on the wall. Reassuring if you were Catholic, this, after all, was Holy Redeemer Hospital, with an enormous Christ figure on the front lawn. Daddy had loved this particular Christ figure. He was a lover of many things, including certain sculptures of Christ, though he never believed in God. Of the five Greenwold girls – Ruth, Donna, Ellen, Lynn and Amy – only Donna believed there was a God.
A nurse, wearing all white, came in and told us what had happened. David had taken an overdose of medication and was unconscious. The doctors were working on him right now. I could tell by the way she talked that my brother was already dead. I loved him very much but I wished he would die. He had a horrible life. A horrible lonely life. With his autism – we weren’t familiar with that word at the time, but it was clear, in retrospect, he bore that diagnosis – he looked at the ground when he walked, never engaged in eye contact, and rarely spoke. As a kid, he had twirled – “Look,” we used to say in amazement, “David’s twirling.” He worked in a sheltered workshop pouring lugnuts into baggies. I often drove him to work. He sat in the front seat, always tilting his body away from me. How rejected I felt! And how utterly sad.
One day, when Ellen came out of the house to get the mail, someone had written the word “SPAS” on the white mailbox. Had my little brother seen it?
In the tiny room at Holy Redeemer, Mom and Ellen twisted around uncomfortably on the sofa, while I paced back and forth in the hallway. It was quiet. Periodically I’d go back into the room. A huge clock on the wall was ticking ominously.
“I let him die,” said Ellen. “I know that.”
“Be quiet,” said my mother.
My sister also believed she had killed my father. Three police officers had lifted my father, his brain cancer had left him immobile, from his side of the bed he shared with mom, put him in a straight chair, he was skin and bones by then, and carried him down two flights of stairs into the family room. I was there and watched in astonishment as my father clapped his hands and laughed in amusement as they carried him. The tumor had altered his personality. In an unforgettable moment, he had told me to bring over a hammer and knock the tumor out of his brain. He was quite bald now from the radiation and there was nothing more that could be done for him. With a plunk, they laid him down into the rented hospital bed, right next to the stone fireplace, and in front of his bookshelves. He had stamped his books “Ex libris Harold Greenwold.” I had read every one of them over the years, feeling embarrassed that he liked sexy books like “The Dream Merchants” by Harold Robbins.
Two months later he was dead. The whole family was there. Ellen and Mom alternated in turning him over every hour so he wouldn’t get bedsores. My kids, Sarah and Dan, then six and four, were playing upstairs when I met Ellen on the stairway.
“Daddy’s dead,” she whispered. “I killed him. I turned him over and realized he wasn’t moving.”
Quickly I calculated his day of death. July 13, 1974.
“Whatever you do,” I said. “Don’t call an ambulance. There’s nothing more that can be done for Daddy.”
It would be just like Ellen or my mom to try and revive this terminally ill man who had asked me, “How long will this go on?”
And now, Ellen had “killed” David, because she delayed calling the police. I think unconsciously we all wanted David dead except for my mother. She had an unconscionable way of telling him every little thing to do, as if he were a dumb animal who needed constant prodding. It was maddening, but I couldn’t stop her, try as I may.
“David, hold the egg-beater straight, you’re getting egg all over the counter.”
Once, he was weeding the lawn and she yelled at him for pulling out flower stems that couldn’t be distinguished from weeds.
David, I am so sorry. So very sorry.
A million thoughts ran through my mind as I waited for the life or death verdict at Holy Redeemer. Then came the rapid sound of feet walking purposefully down the hallway. Feet. Plural. The white-robed doctor walked in this time with the nurse. Their faces told the story. My little brother was dead. He was twenty-seven years old. We were all invited into the small room to say our last goodbyes.
His face was yellow. Like wax. Wearing a blue hospital gown, David, who was born when I was fifteen years old and Mom was forty, stared straight at the ceiling, eyes closed. Blackheads were waiting to be popped on his forehead and on his chin. Blackheads amidst the light stubble on his face. He was indeed a man. He used Clearasil every day. He did back exercises on a daily basis for his scoliosis. He was as regimented and disciplined as my late father had been.
The doctor asked mom about organ donations. We were pretty much aghast at this, but then we understood. David was no more, his organs remained alive and could be used to save people who were near death. Mom made the decisions. Take his corneas and take his skin for fire victims, but leave the organs intact. Little did we know that exactly thirty-one years later, my daughter Sarah, then six, would donate her left kidney to me, when I lost kidney function from taking the bipolar drug lithium for sixteen years.
The funeral was held in Cleveland, our ancestral home. After we’d gotten home, I was at Mom’s house when the door bell chimed. I answered it and invited the police officer inside the hallway. Mom came to the door, but we never asked him to come inside and sit at the comfortable kitchen table with long benches.
“Suicide,” was his conclusion. David had taken 60 pills of his antidepressant Elavil, downing it with his favorite drink, Tropicana orange juice, poured from the carton in the fridge.
Mom would have none of it. “It was an accident,” she argued with the man. “He didn’t know what he was doing. He’s not quite right in the head and must have forgotten that he’d already taken the pills.”
And forgotten and forgotten and forgotten twenty times over.
I had a different philosophy. I was proud of my little brother. He was in misery, so for the first time in all his years he took charge of his life. I hope he enjoyed the last few moments of his existence, knowing he would soon be free as the white clouds meandering across the sky.
David had an interior life. He shared it with no one. Not one single person knew my brother. Can you imagine living for twenty-seven years entombed in loneliness?
There was one other occasion he freed himself from the tyranny of my mother and the limitations of his mind. And make no mistake about it, our David knew he was different. Mom had bought him a beautiful blue Schwinn bicycle which sat in the bike rack in the oily-smelling garage with grease pockmarks on the cement. We learned that in the middle of the night, David would ride his bicycle far from home, down some dimly lit streets, steering perhaps by the stars and enjoying the breeze on his thick brown hair and across his face, while the moonbeams shone down on him, caressing and loving my little brother. We learned of his spectacular derring-do when he was delivered home one night at three in the morning by the police. Mother was appalled. I was thrilled. And glad I wasn’t home to hear her chastise her sheltered son.
Mom is now ninety-two years old. Her hair-sprayed brown bouffant is now thin white hair that falls without enthusiasm to her shoulders. Her bossiness and sense of humor are intact. Her bad legs have her staying in the bed she once shared with my dad. Over the white headboard hangs a huge print of Monet’s poppy fields. She’s an art lover. She had given David art lessons and music lessons with Mrs. Jane Tamaccio, who loved our David like one of her own. She was a pioneer in the treatment of the developmentally disabled. We had no idea until we read it in her obituary.
I visit Mom once a week. She’s downsizing her six-bedroom house in case she dies. Our visits convene at the long Shaker-style table in the kitchen, where she sits at the end amidst the papers she is trying to throw away. It is a farce. The woman can’t part with a thing.
Spider plants still dangle at the sunny window. She laboriously waters them, shuffling over on her “bad” legs.
She sits at the head of the table, noshing on Nestle chocolate chips from the yellow package that rustles when she dips her tiny arthritic fingers inside and pops them joyfully into her mouth.
One day, as we sat at the table, she surprised me.
“I want you to have this,” Mom said.
She pushed a soft green photo album over to me.
“David’s photo album,” I said in a whisper.
“Yes. I want you to have it, Ruth.”
I took the photo album home, home to the yellow house my mom had bought me and where Sarah and Dan had lived as teenagers until they went to college and later, created homes and families of their own.
Clasping the photo album with both hands, caressing it as I walked in the door of my yellow house, I sat with it on my red living room couch, as if it were a Christmas gift I was forbidden to open. Walking into the kitchen, I put a glass under the water dispenser of the fridge and imagined that instead of cold water it was the Tropicana orange juice David had loved. As a young child, before he stopped speaking at age seven, he called orange juice “gree.” He also called me “Ree-row” a nickname that has stuck to this day in our family.
Sipping on the cold water – deep emotions make me thirsty – I walked downstairs into the pink-carpeted lower level of my house and removed a framed picture of David from the book shelf, where I’d hidden it. I walked back upstairs to the living room and placed it prominently on a coffee table, next to a photo of my son Dan, his wife Nicole, and their baby Grace Catherine with the face of a merry leprechaun.
There sat David in his rightful place. A part of the family he so loved. In the black and white photo, he sat on mom’s back porch, wearing the green striped Izod shirt he had picked out himself – he loved stripes just as I do – shorts which showed his muscular calves like Dad’s and his four sisters – and his large black Nikon camera he used with perfection.
Nothing escaped David’s eye. He began with Polaroids. Dad had given him the original Polaroid camera where you peeled off the photo after sixty seconds and then rolled on an antiseptic-smelling layer of gel that preserved the colors. With his nimble fingers that learned to play the piano from Mrs. Jane Tamaccio, he would mount each photo in an ever-increasing number of photo albums.
Alone now unto death in my three-bedroom house, David’s photos currently sleep with me on what I call “the husband’s side of the bed.” He is lonesome no more. Beside him is a huge pile of books, a green tube of body lotion, a lavender-colored handkerchief I fashioned out of an old blouse, and the television remote that gets buried in my white down comforter and the furry tiger blanket on top, which once covered my father while he lay dying.
David spoke with his camera. Every family event was recorded. It took me several months to summon the courage to open the album. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked myself. Once inside I eagerly, hungrily, viewed life as best I could from David’s point of view. There were so many Davids inside the man. Yet, his blue Schwinn bike, the spinet piano on which he played Mozart sonatas, and his colorful sheet music are nowhere to be found. Nor can we find the deep red and purple Persian carpet in his bedroom where he did his back exercises for his scoliosis and where he dropped after the overdose. He was a lover of beauty. I have inherited the colorful ceramic bird house he made at school, thanks to Mom. It sits on my living room window sill. Sunshine bathes everything during the day and when the stars polka-dot the sky at night, an eerie whiteness shines on every meaningful item in the recessed window sill – Valentine red daises from my boyfriend, my sister Donna’s clay vases and bowls, a small royal-blue ceramic ashtray my mother parted with – all surrounding David’s bird house.
In a calendar, I found a photo of a wise old owl and taped it onto the entrance way of David’s gold, orange, lime-green and red bird house. It shines in the sunlight. And glows in the moon light.
It wasn’t until my mid-sixties that I began to polish my finger nails. Red, pink, silver, lavender, green and yellow.
“What do you think, Davy, my boy?” I ask when I see him in the photo. I speak to him frequently. And imagine he answers me. But never in words.
Dad’s favorite expression was, “Life is a mystery.”
I feel your presence, David Richard Greenwold, buried four-hundred thirty miles away at Zion Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. We are together again when I open your soft green photo album. There is your neat left-handed scrawl labeling every single picture with the exact date it was taken: Gramma Lily in Miami – Uncle Marvin and Aunt Selma visiting – my son Danny in his fireman’s hat. It is good to be together again. Ruth and David. David and Ruth. Like in the Bible. Until the end of our days.
Book Review — The Transvection Machine
Review by Scott Holstad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Oh no! Vander Defoe, the inventor of the new transvection machine that’s going to save humanity, has been murdered! At least that’s how it appears. He goes to the hospital to have his appendix removed and the mechanical surgeon causes blood to start spurting out at the first incision and the human nurse helping out can’t save him. Since Vander is one of the president’s cabinet members (of extraterrestrial defense?), it’s important to get to the bottom of things. So the CIB is called in. The CIB stands for Computer Investigation Bureau, and their director is Carl Crader. His younger sidekick is Earl Jazine. They head from NYC to DC to meet with the president and be briefed by his assistant, Maarten Tromp. There are possible paths they could follow, but where to start? Crader decides to return to New York to look for a criminal who has escaped a prison on Venus named Euler Frost. He was in prison for murder and had been hooked up with a revolutionary group of people dedicated to eradicating the world of the computers and machines that have taken over society. He sends Earl to investigate Vander’s wife, Gretel, and his ex-parter — and one of her lovers — Hubert Ganger. Turns out they had talked about killing Vander just that day, only they don’t tell Earl that. They deny all knowledge. That path is taken away. Earl goes to interview the nurse, thinking she had to have been the murderer since everyone knows machines can’t murder, can’t make mistakes, can’t screw up. She denies everything, says everything went by the book. He interviews her doctor supervisor who stands up for her and the hospital, again saying it couldn’t have been the machine. What now?
But what is the transvection machine, you ask? It’s a device that transports anything and anyone from one place to another, whether it’s in a room, different cities, or possibly even different planets. Vander is the only one who knows how it works and he’s proven it works by transvecting a monkey from Boston to another city and by transvecting a Chinese girl from the US to India. The government is seriously interested in his machine, because if it can be proven to transport people between planets safely, then they can populate Venus and beat the Russo-Chinese at it, the country that is dominating Venusian populating. But there’s a dark secret behind the transvection machine.
Crader is concerned about Frost, because apparently he escaped from Venus last week and could have made it back to earth in time to kill Vander. Turns out Frost is back. The author gives us the story from everyone’s vantage point throughout the novel, which is interesting, but at times a little irritating as well. And he does try to kill Vander, but his plot is foiled when one of his assistants appears and saves him from his unsuspecting death. A CIB researcher has found out that the revolutionary group Frost was a part of has actually grown during the time he was on Venus and is headquartered on a small Pacific island known for tourism. Crader decides to go there to look for Frost. On the way, he meets a minister and they strike up a friendship. The minister decides to stay on the island with him, so they can have a good time together. And that is his undoing. The minister is none other than the leader of HAND, this group, and he kidnaps Crader, but only to have him return to the president to relay a message to him, that Gloria Chang has gone over to their side. Crader does this and the message is meaningless to the president. But things are starting to make sense to Crader. And also to Earl. He sees the nurse creeping along the street by the new White House, seemingly hoping not to be found, and witnesses her meeting someone in a parking garage. The man she meets is the doctor. Earl confronts him and the doctor attacks him and escapes. Sometime later, the nurse re-enters the operating room to look at the machine, which couldn’t have done it, and is murdered. By whom? The machine again? Earl is at the hospital looking for her and encounters the doctor, who he confronts again. The doctor pleads innocence. Just then, Earl looks up and sees Vander’s ex-parter in hospital scrubs and takes off after him. Meanwhile, HAND is planning to destroy the computers at the Federal Medical Center, to spark a revolution against computers and technology everywhere. And Crader has had plenty of time to think about HAND’s motivations and has doubts about computers himself now.
And that’s all of the plot you’ll get from me! If you want to know who murdered Vander, if HAND succeeds in blowing up the Federal Medical Center, if a revolution is started, what happens to Frost, what happens to Crader, etc., you’ll have to get the book and read it yourself. It’s a very short book. I read it in a day. It’s an easy read too. The science is hogwash, but if you can get beyond that, it’s an enjoyable story. And Vander’s wife, soon to be ex, is a drug addled nympho, who’s pretty funny. My only real complaint about the book is that the author is SO anti-computer, SO anti-machine, SO anti-technology, that he beats it into your damn head virtually every damn page! It gets old very fast. Talk about beating a dead horse. And this is sci fi!!! I understand, however, that the author is actually a mystery writer, so maybe he was anti-technology. This was published many years ago. Who knows? It’s just damned annoying. Still, as a lightweight, escapist read, it’s fun. Somewhat recommended.
Poetry by Susan C. Waters
Epidermis, Dermis, Mine
This skin follows itself around,
would hide in rye grass
if it were small enough.
This skin is tough as cardboard
and I can only carry myself
in it, even if it gets rebellious,
decides to divide and start a new government.
This skin would like to bloom as wild roses
near a summer kitchen. This skin examines itself
every morning and then forgets its size.
This skin has been around a while now.
This skin wants to know the night
the way dragonflies must.
This skin can wind itself around
a man and push—
This skin worries about itself. And it tastes
like salt. It takes an average cell
up to one month to work its way from dermis to epi so
look out. . .this skin started the Boxer Rebellion.
When rubbed too hard this skin weeps its salt insides.
Scold as you might, this skin has never believed
it is mortal.
*** This poem originally appeared in Waterways.
Poetry by Bill Abbott
The current messiah
Is tired of hanging on the cross.
He’s tired of drinking vinegar from a sponge.
He’s tired of his thorny crown,
So it’s time for the election process to begin again,
With all the world to watch.
The electable messiahs will line up and campaign.
“My opponent has lusted after women in his heart.”
“My opponent is a worthy man to crucify, but he has bore false witness upon me
in his last commercial…”
Surprisingly, sin is only a small step along the road
And as the election approaches,
The character flaws will become even more apparent:
This messiah turns water to wine
For a small fee.
This messiah accepts contributions
From the lepers he has cured.
Feeds multitudes of only registered voters.
This messiah, God help us all,
Isn’t telegenic enough to represent us.
And in the end, the messiahs with the least disciples
Will drop out of the race and return home,
And the front-running Christs will move up in the standings.
“If elected your savior, I promise
To give the working man a penance reprieve.”
“If I am given the right to represent you
On the cross,
Then I promise that you will never go hungry again.”
And the press will take pictures of posing messiahs,
Will show this candidate standing by an Easter bunny,
Will show that candidate trying on his own pre-made crown of thorns.
And the press will post stories about
How certain messiahs have done cocaine in the past, or
How other messiahs have accepted contributions from elected buddhas.
And the candidates will smile and wave, kiss babies and write scriptures
Because no public figure, no matter how holy,
Can bear to not have their story told.
And one will be betrayed by his own Judas
In exchange for a pouch of special interest silver,
And one will be doubted by his own Thomas,
And it won’t matter.
And on a Super Tuesday along the way,
Pilate will stand with the messiahs on a balcony
And the people will try to vote for the lesser of two evils
To represent them in sanctity,
And the people will walk away
With a taste of vinegar in their mouths,
With a feeling that they have sinned somehow
In electing any of these men as a representative for them
To their Yahweh.
And in the end, one of these men
Will be nailed to a cross and raised up
As the old messiah is lowered to the ground.
And one Mary will stand there and proudly say,
“That’s my boy.”
And the old messiah will stretch away the weariness,
And he’ll say one last thing
To his replacement.
As he massages the holes in his hands,
He’ll look up, mutter “Shmuck,” and walk away.
Previously published in November 3rd Club.
Daydream Teatime With Mythical Figures
Under the shadows of exhaustion,
I ponder the world
While Darwin sits across the table,
Whispering rumors of how it all works
As he reads Freud’s works for a giggle.
I think of fables that appeared
Before any Aesop or Mother Goose,
And Darwin stops to listen
To my imagination
As it reviews the story of the flying men.
And I watch my guest
As the story unfolds,
And I notice that
Darwin nods his approval
As Icarus burns
As his wings melt down
In the hot summer sun.
And I can hear Darwin
Mutter something about
As Icarus dies
And Daedalus flies on.
And I sit in this world
With a face that a dermatologist would love,
With teeth that make dentists cherish me,
With bad eyesight, allergies,
Chronic asthma, clinical depression,
And I think,
Only the strong survive,
And Darwin nods at me knowingly.
And I think,
I am not strong. I will not evolve enough.
But I am a Daedalus
To all the Icaruses burning around me,
And I watch them crash and burn
And I learn as much as I can
Because survival of the fittest
Depends in part on learning and adapting,
And not just evolving.
And Darwin smiles.
I will be Daedalus.
I will fly without burning.
Previously published in Dayton Metro Library Poetry Contest.
When I first discovered
That I wanted to write poetry
Eleven years ago,
I wrote three poems a day
For two years straight,
Then started to slow down
Until I reached this point,
Where I’m trapped by the words.
And I remember, when I first told my dad
That I wrote poetry,
That he’d told me
That he’d written a few,
While he was in college,
And I thought,
“I’m gonna write more than a few.”
I, after all, was a poet.
So what do you call a poet
When he doesn’t write anymore?
I remember the early days
Of loving the muse,
We’d run together through the fields, laughing.
I’d court her sincerely.
I’d bring her flowers.
I’d write poems about her
With the words that she’d give to me.
Ah, but familiarity breeds contempt,
And the longer we stayed together,
The more she grew to hate me.
The muse turned cold, distant,
And I struggled to maintain
My grip on the words
That once were so easy.
My muse has gone on an extended vacation, and,
My tires are slashed,
My lines are crossed,
My inner Samson has been shaved,
My sitcom is on hiatus,
My inner child has developed ADD
On the week that the ritalin ran dry,
My tinfoil cap has stopped working, and
The voices in my head are reciting
Waiting for Godot
The prescription ran out on my X-ray glasses,
And it’s raining kryptonite all around me.
And you’d think that something could surface
From all this chaos
But it never does.
I try to talk
And it feels like the words are stuck here
I’m poetically constipated
To the point where I can’t even write shit anymore.
There’s a phrase for this problem,
But I’ve forgotten what it is…
So if you see the muse,
Tell her that I miss her.
Tell her that I’m willing to take her back unconditionally,
That I don’t care who she’s been sleeping with,
As long as she’ll stay this time.
Tell her that I kept all the poems,
That I pressed all the flowers,
And that I can still smell her perfume
On the evening winds.
That the words miss her
As much as I do.
Poetry by Ivan Jenson
Poem for Dummies
You have to
structure your day
have a routine
be set in your ways
stack that which
should be stacked
and pack that
which should be
file your feelings
and your fingernails
flex your muscles
and your options
tack tacky affirmations,
on your refrigerator
do what is on
your to do list
and when you
what has to
be done with it
with a dog, book
never to watch
the evening news
rest assured that
Rome is burning
so pick up your
and play a little
hey diddle diddle
If there is a moral
or a meaning
or a coda
or a Yoda
or an epilogue
or a subliminal message
or a higher force
or additional dimensions
or a way to have instant
replays in slow motion
any given moment
which went by too soon
or some way to get to Tibet
without having to invest in
an expensive air ticket
or a way to superimpose
myself into the figure
of Michelangelo’s Adam
and touch the finger of God
or some way to not fall
in love at first sight
at least twenty times
a day just riding in
a New York City Subway
or a way that I could
mend the frayed, fragile
wiring of certain strained
not to mention a
possibility of striking
out the bloody world conflicts
like an Escher stairway
then let me know
I look forward
to your response
be it snail mail
or a viral video
across the big
Poetry by Grant Mason
Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve had
a shrine of writing.
never pictures of esteemed poets,
nowhere to pray, really,
just a raggedy place for doing it.
some wine stains, paint stains,
put out cigarettes, a knife stuck in-
when I looked at her and said
“I want to fuck you on my writing desk.”
she knew that I loved her.
it was always sacred.
I moved from placed to place:
evicted, kicked out, jailed.
a ragged desk, broken drawers
burn spots, cum stains
(I was always scared pornography
would destroy my computer
but I did it
sometimes the desk would go
and the shrine was just my lap
in some street while I waited for
the next poem, the next place,
waiting for anything.
as time wasted me
and the booze wasted me
and the clocks went round their hours
till I broke them.
I have no computer.
got drunk and dropped it
too many times.
the desk is in the landfill.
now the shrine is in me,
dirty as ever, maybe toxic
and I carry my notebook
sometimes in the hot sun,
cigarette ashes snow down on it,
sometimes inside. I wander around and
wondering where to write, lost
until I sit down HAVING to, it
sometimes I shit and write.
sometime I push the book on the barn walls and scribble.
sometimes on the back of a horse mid-ride
a hawk flies by.
my blasphemous grandfather gets home.
the trees are still.
it never really mattered.
the shrine is in me.
Poetry by Mitchell Grabois
My editor travels to Lisbon
I tell him to catch some Fado
the mournful blues
sung by women
whose husbands have gone away to sea
Amalia Rodriguez, the queen is dead
but Portugal is full
of beautiful women
singing their hearts out
wearing their dark organs
on their sleeves
My editor wants to go but can’t convince his friends
who see these performances as touristic
and don’t want to pay
for expensive drinks
and for the sultry, scornful singer
in the dark room
to cover them with contempt
then to shiver them with notes
like a gravedigger
flinging dirt behind him
dirt that transforms mid-air
into broken razor blades
The streets are filled with land mines
which the singer deftly avoids
as she struts over the cobbles
in her four-inch heels
headed for home
She knows where they are
and she knows
that you don’t
Poetry by Michelle Askin
Along The Way
Snow falling in a city of grandeur.
Tonight you’re young and falling in love
with the last of the red satin leaves
that swirl the kissing ice sculptures.
You’re in law school and everything is beautiful on the historic orange lit bridge and in beige, oval city scape windows to imagine so many lives— Peruvian jazz dinner parties
or elegant sex with a Persian fortune teller who recites Hafiz in the warm shower. And I am in the wooded shack in the bluish spruce forest.
just wanting to listen to my new wave record player. We will never walk in and out of each other’s lives again. I’ll watch nostalgic reruns, make believe it’s not too late to be the hip stars in Jordache jeans and hairspray. You will remember nothing, only feel the glam baby, the melancholic slowed down synth club mix. Some of us were meant to get lost far off.
Sorrow begins with loveliness, the sound of waveforms rotating,
preferably something with barbershop quartet or doo-wop,
like outside my Italian Grandmother’s family restaurant
on a snowy lake, frozen day in Saulte Ste. Marie, Ontario
now embroidered with goth kids combing their blue and black
streaked hair. They are wanting to bum a few bucks off
for a whole pepperoni and to tell me what loneliness is,
though they all hold hands, French kiss, and magic marker
drug score plans on one another’s metal core t-shirts of bands,
who’ve been out of the limelight for seventeen years.
But my loneliness was always there, even in my youth,
and never embraced by some misfit irony, well except
for maybe I remember at least a few. The second was almost
too heart wrenching to recall fully. The first was in middle school
by some neon, glam girl, who insisted on being called D’arcy,
like the bass player, as she painted our nails black and named the pig
we were dissecting for bio, Siamese Dream, an offering to her god,
Billy Corgan, with a Hail Mary thrown in for good luck
and to make all the guts and mechanical penciled in data charts
more ceremonial. All the more a distraction from going home
to our quiet rooms while news blared from our parents’ kitchens
the same old, same old threat of women and homosexuals
in the military or wars in countries we’d only understand
for their red stone village beauty and crushable boys in faded,
dated Guess Jeans with even more out of fashion, Do you discotechue?
boom box lingo. Then there were the many breads his family rolls
from dawn to dusk for market— another world, the photos
from our textbooks, like the song from a distant ice cream truck,
not the ringing bell that time but strings from some sort of golden age
of Hollywood score. Our Vietnamese neighbors slowly comforted
the girl who rode the special ed bus, and who some called fatso,
dumbo when mocked for buying two Bubble O’ Bills.
They didn’t know yet one was for me because she was sad
that I never came out to skate or bicycle with the other kids,
and thought I’d think the pink bubble gum nose was funny.
And when she was explaining herself tenderly to my open window,
they gathered in their bowl-haircut and scrunchie pony tail
adolescent brutality: Come on out; come on out. Come on out
and be friends with the weird girl. I didn’t move from the blinds.
The Vietnamese man and woman not knowing now what to do,
quietly offered her a pink carnation from their lawn garden
and praised the Shubert piece by humming with the cello
as I didn’t let her in but listened with fearful devotion
to that cold truck’s radio, where there sorrow also began.
But then the want to live also pushed hard through you,
and you began to shout it in a grocery store. You were like
the mentally challenged man escaped from an institution,
who when the soup-stocker boy asked to help, begged,
Make me electric. I want to be electric. And it was the most
gorgeous moment of their lives— how the tile’s smashed apples
became beautified by yellow fluorescent lights and a young girl’s
Keds radiated her new story. All night she rode in a camper van on 29,
waking to dawn’s glow of tan legs, men’s bare toes kicking
a torn volleyball by a roadside’s Mexican diner. This was in some
poor Carolina farm town, that is, her first noticing how golden a body
could be and move. Her first wish to the moon. And now your moon
arrives with the rain, this hazy dusk. Everything seeming so lush
and drinkable in this damp Charlottesville, Va parking lot:
the wet lettuce in your bag, engine smoke of the same mountain bus
you came here by after that awful year, and not the poem, but that feeling
from the poem you are wanting to grow inside you. Trying to begin or end:
In a white blossom tree oak, I carved my home by a red brick house,
not knowing someone who used to love me lived there. Not knowing
I would wait out storms asleep in a car, that the want to live
always came from that dream of again being taken in.
Poetry by Erren Kelly
Daughter Of Pearl
she was a peculiar one, this
daughter of pearl
she often hung out at the coffeehouse
musing on sci-fi novels or books
her voice sounded like whiskey
and cigarettes, with some
gravel mixed in
long sundresses brushed against
the floor when she walked
she always brushed her hair
out of her eyes when she
who could ask for anything more ?
she rarely gave me the eye
when I walked the floor
by her table
yeah, her face was plain
but allison’s voice held all
the pain of janis’
Allison finally came around and
loved me long
but like the brightest star
or the best dream
one day, she was
The Death Of Saturday Morning Cartoons
“For the first time in 50 years, there was no Saturday morning cartoons of any kind on any of the major networks….” From a Yahoo! article…
No more mystery machine or mighty mouse
No more wile e. coyote chasing the roadrunner
on Saturday mornings
Though I never took him seriously
If the coyote always had the money to
Go to acme to buy materials to make
The trap and travel to chase the roadrunner
He could’ve saved himself the trouble
And bought himself a pizza
Johnny quest always looked mod
In a turtleneck sweater
daphne was the eye-candy, but
velma was the prototype for the
Feminist, the opinionated woman
Though she was a plain jane
But she had tig o bitties
velma was smart when being smart
Wasn’t cool for girls
Saturday mornings, I ate big bowls of
Cereal, sometimes at mom’s house
Sometimes, at dad’s
I thought my dad was smarter than
The average dad
Bugs bunny made being an anti-authority
Figure cool; he taught me all about life
With a queen’s accent
The schoolhouse rocked when blossom dearie
The jazz diva with the little girl voice,
Explained how adjectives were used
In a sentence
Some Saturday morning, mom cooked breakfast
As a lowly bill explained his sisphyean quest
To become law; and succeeded against all odds
Godzilla was a tortured soul
But he always came out victorious
The villain would’ve gotten away with it, too
If it hadn’t been for those meddling kids
And that dog
But shaggy was my favorite
Casey Kasem was his voice
When he wasn’t counting down
Top 40 hits on pop radio
Or making long distance dedications
go go gadget, and a watch could
stop a bomb from smashing into earth
just a few weeks ago, apple introduced a watch
inspector gadget would love
c –bear was the teddy bear with soul
but I always preferred peanuts,,,
snoopy was the rock star beagle
but Charlie brown was my spiritual twin
I’ve always had a soft spot for underdogs…
I keep thinkin about a
She kinda reminds me
Of the one in elton’s
Tiny like a snowflake
But moves like a
This tiny dancer has
Starlight in her breath
And holds jazz in her
I bury my face between
And find milk and honey
They say to sing is to pray
To dance is become
To hold a dancer is to
Book Review — A Poverty of Words
A Poverty of Words
By Frederick Pollack
Review by Scott Holstad
Frederick Pollack, who will be appearing in a future issue of Ray’s Road Review, is a thinking man’s poet. And that’s shown through in his new book, A Poverty of Words. It’s not an easy read. It’s, at times, hard to get through. Sometimes you feel like you need a dictionary or a thesaurus, or perhaps even you need to be able to Google classical Greek names and terms. But it’s worth it. Because after you’ve finished this book, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, and so did the poet writing this book.
While Pollack can sometimes take a narrative tone, he’s no Bukowski. He’s a little more “upscale.” Sometimes he bridges the gap between ancient and contemporary, as in “Tristia,” where Ovid dreams of telephones and email as he lives in exile. His poem entitled “The Recession” should be a mandatory reading for those in need of lessons learned.
Indeed, Pollack takes on a number of issues in this book, including homelessness (“The Soundwall”) and politics, in several poems. In “White House Talks,” subtitled “July, 2011,” he writes, “The most rational man in the room/never sighs or rolls his eyes/or interrupts. “ Some of the people in the room love their freedom and can do nothing but talk more and more about it, all the while while money talks. The poem ends, “feels confident/it will back him rather than these yahoos/and almost sighs, a courtesan among whores.” In “Hasty Orion,” he refers to the “’Kenyan’ commander-in-chief.” In “Troll,” he refers to himself as a “libtard” or “liberal retard.”
Pollack is a teacher/professor, as I once was, and I quite enjoyed his taking a little pot shot at students in “Charisma”: “As he spoke, the IQ/of his class diminished./When he reached the tenth minute/they had forgotten five./As he finished that sentence/they lost its beginning.” Oh, how I have had those feelings in years past! Standing in front of a group of people with their eyes glazed over doesn’t do much for the ego.
One of his poems that closes the book, “The Former Tenants,” is rough and gritty. In it, the speaker looks at a former group home that can’t sell and wonders why. “The town-house where the group home was/isn’t selling. Perhaps it’s the recession;/perhaps the barred windows, odd in this neighborhood./Or an echo of screams in the walls/Except that such effluvia don’t exist./Paint cures what it covers; people live/dreamlessly where prisons were, and torture.”
A Poverty of Words is, at 130 pages, a nice sized volume of poems, just about the right size. I don’t know what the price is. My only real complaint, and this is minor, is that the acknowledgement page comes at the end of the book and is an insert, something I’ve never seen before. Mine fell out of the book entirely. I don’t know why they chose to do it that way, but it’s highly unusual. Acknowledgements typically come at the beginning of poetry books. Most of the poems in this book appear to have been published in a wide variety of magazines, although I confess to not having heard of a number of them. That just means I shall have to look them up and more reading for me, right? Frederick Pollack accomplishes a lot with this book. It’s a big endeavor and he succeeds. Recommended? Definitely.
Book Review–With the people from the bridge
Review by Chris Duncan
When I work with my students at whatever community college I’m teaching a class or two or three for slave wages, I tell them when critiquing a poem or story or movie or painting to start with the first thing the writer/ artist gives you. They usually give me a blank stare before I say, “The title. Always start with the title. Don’t skip the obvious first step in trying to understand a work of art.” In reviewing Dimitris Lyacos’ dynamic, genre-defying, drama-poem-prose-amalgam, I start with the title because it gives concrete meaning to an often dizzy, introspective, and extremely fragmentary recounting of desperate longing for love (aren’t most works of art about longing for love in some way, shape, or form?). With the people from the bridge tells us exactly that the protagonist of this work (the second of three related volumes) is psychologically and concretely hovering between places. That’s what bridges are—a physical means of connection, but rarely a destination itself. The nameless protagonist hangs out with the people from the bridge and watches his drama in a sad, melancholy world which reflects his lost love. He sits “on the floor among the others, ten, more or less, some of them with their dogs.” Walls are crumbling. Folks huddle around fires in barrels to keep warm. The vision is dystopian (I really wanted to avoid using that over-used word but it fits). What follows are fragments, many, many fragments, biblical, disjointed, introspective, and, at bottom, reflective of his longing for his dead lover: “Hurts again. Wait a bit until it goes. Sometimes you hear her. One on top of the other. Like a wave inside you, all of a sudden.” And later: “She wants to come out. A box and something moving inside it, open it. Bones, earth. Close it. Open it. Same again. You leave and go back to it again. Why though?”
The protagonist longs for his dead lover. The words are fragmentary because he’s a fragment, not whole. The action takes place beneath a bridge because a bridge is more of a non-place than a place. He’s in transition. That’s what longing is—lingering in loss and wallowing in often desperate need to be made whole (an apt description of the human condition). So beyond the umpteen sentence fragments and the post-modern, genre-bending, mind-trippy narrative, we have a simple love story, or, rather, a story of lost love. Our protagonist is between lives, on a bridge, in a sort of sad stasis, and the experimental narrative dramatically illustrates the agony in which he suffers. I really want the protagonist to walk across this bridge to a happier reality (perhaps in the third volume?).
I recommend With the people from the bridge because Lyacos delivers a story in which we can all relate. We all have or will experience loss. The vehicle in which he takes the reader on this sad journey is unique (and the genre is…heck if I know), which is a good thing. I like works of art that aren’t easily definable. I also like journeys that are fragmentary because all of our journeys are fragmentary. We’re all trying to get somewhere or to someone. We’re all on a bridge.
Lulu was an all-together different animal. Not quite a Labrador, not quite a Pit Bull, at times not quite even a dog. How many dogs do you know that can climb a tree? She used to remind me of a lion cub, her eyes, the color of her coat, the black at the tip of her tail. She’d swat at you with her paws, too, just like a cat, when we wrestled.
I adopted Lulu in 2002 from the Boulder Humane Society. She was the only dog in the whole place clever enough to feign sanity, at least long enough to get outside. The second that leash came off she blasted out like a cannon ball, bouncing off the fences, twirling, sliding, gnawing my forearm like a chew-toy then grinning and blasting off again. I didn’t care. I’d have hesitated if she didn’tact like a maniac. Dogs need to run.
And Lulu had a good run. For thirteen years she was a much beloved family pet. There was some concern at first when my siblings, some of whom had been newly blessed with children, heard I was returning from Colorado with a notoriously “lethal” breed of canine. Their fears quickly evaporated however when they realized the only threat she posed was that of a slobbery face or a smack from her club-like tail.
To me that’s the most beautiful thing about dogs—their reckless, unconditional affection. It didn’t matter who you were, what you looked like, or where you’d come from—if you were a human being, Lulu would love you. “Roooooooooooooh,” she’d say, waggling her crazy tail. She even tried to speak our language. My mom said she was trying to mimic us with all her rooing and howling.
I have a million great stories about Lulu and probably more, but I’ll leave you with just this one. A week or so after Christmas her health took a turn for the worse. Her breathing became severely labored, and she stopped wanting to move at all, even to go outside. We took her to the vet who told us she could die any day now. We brought her home and waited a while. When I prayed over her, she got better. A couple days later she got worse again. I asked Jesus to take her peacefully and painlessly, and that weekend, one hour before her final appointment, she laid down next to my mom and went to sleep. It’s more than fitting that it happened that way, because while I was Lulu’s keeper, my mom was her undeniable best friend.
Part of me wanted to forget about Lulu after she left us. God wouldn’t have it, though. “You remember her,” He said. “Mourn properly for that amazing creature.” So I did, and I know where she is now, bounding limitless and free, galloping through the high grass of heaven and launching baby rabbits skyward with her snarfing, upturned snout. I wonder what the weather’s like up there. Peace, Lu.
Rheem Manufacturing (1957) by John Laue
After my junior year at The University of California, Berkeley I worked at Rheem Manufacturing Company in Richmond, California for the summer, a job one of my fraternity brothers, a management trainee for that company, got for me. As a floater there I earned five dollars an hour, a generous sum for those days. Rheem made many kinds of metal containers, from quart paint cans to ten thousand gallon water tanks. Before leaving that place, I worked at almost every station there.
My first job was to shave off metal residue called weld beads around the flanges (raised rings around holes) in water heater tanks that came down an assembly line, then stack them on the floor so they could be taken to the galvanizing vat.. For this I wielded a pneumatic chisel, a tool like a miniature jackhammer. The metal on metal process made such a racket that the earplugs I wore barely kept the sound down to manageable levels.
I floated to many other jobs in the factory. Sometimes I’d be on a line for making lids of quart and gallon paint cans. I fed sheets of metal into a large press controlled by a foot pedal. The machine would stamp out circular sections much like a cookie cutter does with dough except it also crimped the edges. If any part of my anatomy got under the press when it descended, it would be stamped out too, so I had to be careful. Workers after my station put the lids on cans and, farther down the line, stacked them in freight cars.
I also had to paint quart and gallon cans, positioning them on a belt, then activating a series of nozzles that would spray them. I wore an apron, mask, and goggles, but by the end of the day these would be coated with paint although I stood behind a barrier most of the time. Like every other job I did for that company, it was terrible for workers’ health. The smell and feel of the paint affected my breathing, sometimes threatened to overwhelm me, but I was young and game for anything. I figured if the regular workers could do the jobs, I could too.
In another messy operation I coated septic tanks with a hot tar mixture. I’d pick them up with an overhead pulley system that slid on a ceiling rail (many of the plant’s jobs used these), dunk them in the black tarry liquid until they were fully coated, then hoist them out. I reached into this mixture with gloves more than once when the hook came undone and I had to reposition it. The tar wasn’t quite hot enough to burn me, but I did get fingernails on one hand coated with the black mixture, a condition that lasted weeks although I tried hard to wash it off.
A fourth job I had was pounding barrel hoops flat (they came out of the manufacturing process askew) and fitting them around steel barrels. For this I had a large sledge hammer. It took no brain power, but a sturdy pair of arms and a good aim. The job frustrated me because unless the hoops were pounded perfectly round and could lay flat on the floor, the barrels wouldn’t take them.
After that I worked on another part of the barrel line. Before they had lids, I dipped the barrels in hot galvanize, then pulled them out of that bath, and lowered them onto a slanting set of rails positioned so these cylinders could roll down to the floor. My job was to guide them to the end of that process. I had to stand with a large wooden stick (the barrels were too hot to touch), and make sure they rode to the floor without incident. For this I wore gloves. Luckily, I didn’t get burned, but at home, when I took off my heavy work shoes, I noticed holes in the leather where hot metal had dripped.
I was also involved in manufacturing giant tanks. This was with large, square sheets of thick metal with holes bored in one edge. My job was to hook unto the holes, hoist them up, put them through a gadget in the ceiling that curved them until the two ends came together. These were later welded into huge cylinders, three of which would be put together to make ten thousand gallon tanks. Before the tank ends were welded on, the worst job in the factory (by my reckoning) was done. Men stood inside the giant cylinders, and struck them with large mallets to dislodge weld residue. The cylinders acted as sounding boards, so this could be heard a half mile away–and the men were standing inside them!
The bits of weld residue that accumulated from many of these jobs were salvaged and put back into the galvanize mixture. Men would sweep these up, add them to a machine which shook them, letting dust and other fine particles from the floor fall through a screen. I saw that the way this was being done wasted much of the fragments. I got the idea to put them through twice and recover almost twice as much valuable metal. I experimented with doing it this way and it worked, so I went to the foreman who oversaw that job, but he just shined me on.
I had another job in the manufacture of water heater tanks that almost turned out to be disastrous. I’d hook on to the tanks through holes, using a pulley and roller in the ceiling, raise them, then lower them into an acid bath. When they were suitably coated, I’d raise them again, lower them into the next vat, a water bath, to neutralize the acid left on them. After that, I’d raise, then lower them into a liquid metal mixture of about 700 degrees Fahrenheit. This required that I make sure all the water had drained out of the tanks before they went into the galvanizer bath. If water hit the hot metal, an explosion would occur.
The foreman who explained the job to me somehow left out this part (or I didn’t hear it). One of the first tanks I put into the galvanizer bath blew hot metal over everything nearby. Fortunately, no one got burned, but it could have been a tragedy; I found out later that the year before, when this had happened, it had sent two men to the hospital
Before I left, I became quite popular with the men. To break the monotony I played a few jokes. In one I got them to think a tedious job of stacking water heater tanks for a large order was finished when there were still many to go (I’d hidden the others behind a machine). They groaned and grumbled, but were good sports about it.
The best joke I pulled there (and one of my best ever) was when several of us were having lunch just outside the building. We weren’t in love with eating in the company cafeteria, especially because one of the men, who I privately calledPigpen (after the Peanuts comic strip character), smelled so bad, and was so gross with hacking and hocking, it caused some of us to lose our appetites. Shorty, a foreman with a reputation as a bullshitter, was holding forth.
Shorty: Last year me and Jeff went up the Rocky Mountains to hunt bear. We was climbin out of a ravine when we saw a big un. I bet that bear was ten feet tall when he stood up, but we wasn’t close enough to get a shot at him. He seen us and scooted out a there like lightnin. I never saw a bear move that fast in my life.
Me: One of my best buddies went to the Rockies to hunt bear. A big one came out of the bushes just a few feet from him. He tried to shoot it but his gun jammed. That bear chased him a while, then got him up against a tree. My buddy thought he was a goner, but he got an idea, reached down, grabbed the bear’s dick, and jacked him off. And you know what—that bear didn’t even chase him, just laid down with a smile on his face!.
There was a long pause. The one of the men said, He’s funin us!, and they all burst out laughing.
After that every time some of those men would pass my station, they’d pump their hands like jacking off a bear.
I liked my time at the factory. It gave me a chance to earn enough money to go back to school at U. C. Berkeley. Though I made no long-term friends there, I learned how to fit in with a group of working class white men (I don’t recall even a single black although many lived in that city). That added to my confidence later when as a liquor store clerk, teacher, and driving instructor I had to deal with all segments of society.
The jobs I had in that factory went from marginally to drastically unsafe, but I got through them without serious problems, a feat that gave me confidence in my ability to follow instructions and watch out for myself. I felt sorry for the men who did those jobs day in day out until something went wrong and they were injured or sickened. I’d read about coal miners in West Virginia suffering similar fates.
The plight of these workers caused me to become a member of three more unions (I’d already been in the Musicians Union), even be a founding member of one for driving instructors. I suspect most of what the men did back then has now been replaced by robots, thus cheapening their labor even more. We’re seeing situations in this era where the few working people left with jobs never get raises while managers and officers at the top increase their salaries and benefits exponentially. I see serious problems on the horizon unless something’s done to reduce the amount of inequality. .
The Stray by Shuly Cawood
I was alone in the backseat when it happened. I remember city lights and cars hustling down lanes, and listening to the voices of my aunt and uncle, my tios, who were speaking to each other in the front seat, using a language I had come to understand.
There was a moment just before it happened when the world before me stilled, then stopped.
Torreon, Mexico burned hot and dry, even at night, and had until then, but I remember that night in March as something else: rainy, slippery, a place where you could lose something if you weren’t careful enough.
* * *
I was often in the backseat the months I lived in Torreon. I had gone there to teach English for a semester; to live with Tia Tela and Tio Rene in their white stucco house emptied of their grown children; to finally learn my mother’s native language. I had escaped a temp job, which I had taken after graduate school to stay near my boyfriend in Columbus, Ohio. My cubicle had squeezed tighter every day.
In Torreon, I was driven to stores, driven to my cousins’ houses, driven to work sometimes and picked up. I had gotten a Mexican license a few weeks into my stay, and though Tia Tela let me take the car when she did not need it, I heard stories of policemen stopping drivers for the most minor offense, leaning with hot breath into their windows, pressing, in low tones, for bribes. I drove white-knuckled and with one foot jabbing at the brakes, so I didn’t say no when my tios offered to drive to the bus station to pick up the boyfriend who had come to visit all the way from Ohio, taking bus after bus to reach me.
His trip was meant to erase the separation, to mitigate the facts: that I was learning a language he did not know; that I had missed him more on the days when we had lived in the same city and he did not have time to see me than I had in in the months since January when we had kissed goodbye at the airport; that I had been the one, not he, who was ready to get engaged at Christmas, and I had been the one, not he, who was no longer ready when he had finally said in February, by phone, ok, yes, let’s. By March, I was an American 24-year-old trying to be ready for something other than marriage.
That’s what Mexico had done in two months. That’s what 1,800 miles between two people can do. That’s what people do, really, to each other when they are caught between two places: they struggle toward an undetermined and terrible middle.
* * *
At the bus station, I opened the glass doors, stepped inside, and scanned the row of orange bucket chairs fastened to the floor. I spotted him before he saw me, and he looked smaller than I remembered. Not that his body was big: He was around 6 feet tall, but thin. (Once, I had pulled on his jeans, discarded on the bedroom floor, and had to tug them up my own slender legs and to my waist. When I frowned, he said, “They look way better on you,” before putting an arm around my waist to draw me to him. “You’re a woman. That’s what they’re supposed to look like.”) But his impeccable posture always grew his height, bulked his chest and shoulders. He had a pet peeve about people who slouched, so I straightened when around him. Yet at that bus station in Torreon, it was hard to imagine him with his booming voice, as the one making jokes and commanding attention in a room. I had fallen in love, in part, because of how big his spirit was, how small I could let mine be. But across the room, he looked hunched, his wiry frame bunched into a chair. He clutched the duffel bag on his lap—a bag that in my memory now appears enormous, dwarfing him.
* * *
Through the rubble of years, any specific memory of that visit comes to me in pieces only—a shard of a moment here, a broken bit there, as if the whole is unimaginable in its betrayal of how close we had been, but were no longer. We were both fighting to reclaim what was rightfully ours: for him, all the love I’d promised; for me, his shelter, and at the same time, my freedom.
During his visit, he constantly smiled, asked my relatives questions, rolled out the few Spanish expressions he knew, sampled all food set in front of him—jocoque, chorizo, fruit speckled with chile. He even attempted one afternoon to really converse with Tio Rene, who knew only a little English. I had come down the hallway and from a distance seen them, sitting in metal chairs, elbows on kitchen table, both of them straining but determined to speak. I waited and listened as they bent toward each other and repeated phrases and searched for more words in their opposite language—ones impossible to find since they were never in their vocabulary to begin with. After several rounds of grunts and gestures, they simultaneously laughed and leaned back. Isn’t that what I had wanted when I had invited the man I had so loved—for him to like them, for them to adore him? My throat clenched, and I looked down at tiles of hallway floor and let the quiet swell once more.
Before his visit, I had wanted to share every bit of my tios’ house: the arches and circular staircase; the balcony from where one could see people sweeping their sidewalk in the early hours of morning; and the smell of the house—oh, the smell—of warming tortilla, of roasting chicken, of stewing beans with onions and peppers. But now that he stood beside me, I seemed to hold my breath. The rooms shrank when we sat alone in them, as he reached over for my hand. I held on and let go, held on and let go.
If we walked to the alameda, it was I who led us around the tree-lined block, through the clusters of families eating popsicles and elotes, by the couples draped onto each other on benches. If we dined at Martin’s, it was I who looked up at the waitress, asked for drinks sin hielo, and ordered for myself, for him. If anyone drove, it was I. All around us, rocks of mountains soared to sky, the city stretched into vast Chihuahuan Desert, and Spanish words flapped and rose and flew.
* * *
At the end of his journey, we stood in my tios’ garden, in between white walls and black fence, in between tenderness and uncertainty. In this part of the yard, no one could see us. I don’t remember how we arrived there—if he asked me outside, if he pulled me gently from the house onto the bricked veranda and then the patch of grass. But alone, we faced each other. I imagine now the fig tree shifted slightly as he—without ever posing any question, as if making a declaration—took my hand, limp at my side, lifted it and tried to slide the ring he had brought onto my finger.
My heart thumped furiously.
The ring stuck halfway, and he pushed the solitaire harder against my knuckle. I shook my head and touched his arm—an arm I loved still with its muscles and freckles, a blend of man and boy—and said, “I really meant it when I said I’m not ready.”
He looked at me, and his arms dropped to his sides. The corners of his mouth turned down, and his gaze fell to a place where I could not find it. I handed him the ring, and he shoved it back into his pocket, and we stood frozen in that moment in a place we’d been avoiding but now could not escape.
* * *
It was evening and raining, and my tios were driving me again, and all the cars in all the lanes clipped forward at a mighty speed. I sat alone in the backseat, having said goodbye to what I’d once thought of as my future. Water slushed everywhere.
Then a dog—short-haired and lanky—darted out.
We could see it just ahead, motionless in front of us, but with lanes crowded on both sides and cars barreling behind us, there was nothing to do but keep rushing forward, our tires slicing the sloppy, soaking street.
The dog seemed to look right at us, through the windshield and frantic wipers, just before we hit it with a thud.
For a horrifying five seconds—count them, they are long—the dog yelped, caught beneath our racing car. Trapped by wheels and chrome, its body knocked, smacked, battered right below where I sat in the back seat, stunned. Canine cries echoed against metal, and fur and bones clanked against the undercarriage; the dog rolled on and on and on.
When it was over, without a comment or acknowledgment, my uncle and aunt resumed their conversation—one I no longer wished to capture and hold, their Spanish language suddenly like a frail netting falling apart in my reaching hands.
I didn’t belong to Mexico, but I didn’t know where I belonged, and the darkness of the car hovered, and the city lights burned, and the traffic streamed onward down streets I could not name.