International Literary Exchange: What I tried to tell you, yesterday, by Chloe Higgins

international literary exchange, Poetry

yesterday

 

i watched a bird fall from

the sky was yellow and (a)round

the trees hung circles of

 

yours was yellow blood

that seeped into mine

 

even the blind could see

when seven thousand ribbons

were strung midway

between your ribcage and navel

 

yesterday

i watched

a bird fall

 

(This poem is a response to Lina Sagaral-Reyes’ poem, The story I would have wanted to tell you had I met you yesterday. Both poems are about a young activist, Emmanuel Gutierrez, who was killed during the Yellow Revolution in the Philippines.)

International Literary Exchange: The Wanker by James Poole

international literary exchange, Poetry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kettlebrook Wanker

                                                   (An Introduction to Lorraine)

 

When the Wanker walked, he talked

and when he drank he talked

and when he talked you listened,

or bought him a schooner

just to give the air

a chance to stale.

 

He cornered me in Kettlebrook

the famous Wanker.

Wearing cowboy urban

with a pop shirt reading

‘rock of the eighties!’

 

And a blonde bleached macho grip

on his lip.

 

When he arrived the lip dropped

and dropped

and didn’t stop

until the air consisted of his posterior narration

and little else.

‘Capital B’ the witty blokes called it.

(bullshit to the simple)

 

Backs against wall, egos hold

their breath as the Wanker shushes

 

the crowd, beer stilted pause as he speaks

‘Mayyyyyyyyyyyte’

[takes a sip]

he spills his amber in gesticulation

before diving in-

to another anecdote.

 

This time, about Willow (maybe Wayne)

and the time their mate

Benny wasn’t half cut,

and found himself pissing

against a window:

mistook for a trough.

(where three girls were seated)

The yellow trickle rain

washed the glass (middle aged stain)

 

and the pub laughed

and cacked

and the girls,

unaware of Benny

behind, (like the Wanker)

couldn’t understand why

everyone was

laughing.

 

But the Wanker doesn’t stop.

He just pauses, takes

another sip

and continues.

 

He’s courting the girls

in the pub. They’re

too young,

and he’s

too drunk.

Pool table insight fancies

him a quick grope,

before the birds move on

and the Wanker

Is left

wanting.

 

“It’s not the first time”

He tells me.

Loudly. Yells at me.

“You’re fairly young

mate,

I bet you’re knocking around with

some spunk. What’s you’re name?” Russell “Mate,

let me tell you, these birds could have their wings

cut compare

to girls I’ve had, with all

their bits in

the right places.”

Before he concludes, I ask

for a name, he cuts me off quickly

“Lorraine”,

and continues.

 

Lorraine

(From the Wanker’s Lips)

How love has never lost as much as I have lost Lorraine.

A gorgeous girl: the kind that made the passing bloke stop,

forgetting their private concerns,

and gather (against their very nature) a token:

grit and shells

to measure their humble

affection.

 

And when she’d finish

making boys of the men, and

men of the boys, she’d let the others

see her with her latest catch. So they’d

get to watch as

Lorraine shared another boy

with herself.

 

I lived next door to Lorraine.

Sometimes, late a night, I could almost

peak Into her window. I Imagined seeing

her naked, rounded and calm,

beckoning me gently

over the thin drain channel

that separated our

houses.

 

Oh how I’d have built a bridge for Lorraine,

just to have her for a night.

Paul McGuiness bet I couldn’t do it.

called Lorraine the ‘early bloomer’

a predator of a woman, not a girl,

who liked sea shells with grit

and not pearly guts.

 

But I was sixteen! (and never lost a bet)

And wrote her a poem, addressed as follows:

Dear Lorraine,

              Your name is gentle to the ear,

              You smell like grass and peaches.

              I’d cross my heart, and show no fear;

              If you’d be with me at the pictures.

 

 

 

 

          At the Pictures: Jewjella Chews and the Smell of Liquorice

(The Wanker Recalls)

 

You never smelt your best

the way you did at the pictures.

Fred Holloway took Janine Richers

there once. Told me after

the trick was a two part procedure:

One: get the right lollies

Two: wait for the romantic bit

 

He said he was smooth, bought

her Jewjella chews

and All Sorts

(that’s the trick he said)

and by halfway through

the interval

she was kissing Fred

and eating

from his hands.

He made it all the way

too, graduated man club,

and told us that

by the end of the picture,

he

had

his

hand

down

her

top…

 

I think they saw Doctor Zhivago .

It wasn’t showing when Lorraine

agreed to go with me, so I

took her to see

Son of El Cid

Instead.

 

When we arrived

the theatre was dark

and Lorraine was

wearing maroon. I’d nicked

a tie from my Dad’s cupboard,

and some aftershave too.

I was done up like Gable,

Brill cream hair slicked and

globed on thick

I just thought ‘‘here I am:

me and Lorraine.

sitting next to each other

at the pictures’’

I didn’t know what to say or do.

She bought her own liquorice

for the show, and chewed it

loudly. Lorraine was a man eater: a shark!

What did she expect me to do?

I tried to think back

to my sex ed class,

or something Fred Holloway

suggested.

‘Let her hold the popcorn.’

He said.

‘You can brush her arm

as you pass to grasp

the box in her lap’

 

I tried this, got nervous and

snapped,

punching Lorraine

In the

elbow.

She swore, then chuckled

Then laughed, then kept

watching the picture. I could

smell the liquorice on her

lips.

 

I waited some more. Hoping

The Son of El Sid, might give me

an opportunity to make

a move like Fred. Lorraine

was notorious for this

sort of thing and I

figured it couldn’t

be too hard.

 

Before I could decide

what I should

do:

she swooped.

Caught me of guard,

liquorice lips

tasting of aniseed

and clammy hands

peeling back

my ears.

 

It was a hot, wet mess.

Lorraine was nothing

but tongue and my checks

were red, and my

hands gripped nothing but

the air.
It was like Christmas

or Easter

or both.

 

When it was over, she invited me

back to her house, we

walked there from the

pictures in silence.

It was dark when we

arrived. I still

tasted like liquorice as

we went up the stairs

to her room,

where we sat

on her bed

and said nothing.

 

If I was game I

would have said

something

charming or witty that

might get her to

move closer, or

at least get her talking.

 

But I didn’t.

 

And Neither did she.

 

We did not touch,

and

We did not speak.

 

We just sat there in quiet.

Stayed up all night

too, waited

till morning.

 

And to this day I swear, when

it finally came up:

that sunrise

never looked so good,

and never would

again.

 

 

A Looker, Sticky and Gay

(My final thoughts of the Wanker)

 

 

I stand in awe of Lorraine.

Quiet by the bar, listening

as the Wanker keeps on talking

always talking

Like he can’t stop.

A compulsion

driven by some

maddening force

he can’t control.

Or at least

chooses not to.

 

 

I hear nothing but “Lorraine.”

I have to cut him off,

when I can,

pressing a question

in the space that

forms between

breaths.

 

“What happened to her?”

 

He tells me they

got married, and

had a couple

of  kids together. He

Keeps talking after that

but when the Wanker’s

glass is empty he
leaves me

with a bloke

named Sticky,

while he’s off

to get a schooner,

and take another piss.

 

Sticky doesn’t talk

like the Wanker or

anyone else.

He just listens with a beer,

get’s the jist, and

nods politely.

I take a drink

so that the air

doesn’t feel so awkward

 

I ask if Sticky’s ever heard

of the famous

Lorraine.

He nods, but says

nothing.

As he does, I

can see;

the Wanker

stumbling back toward

us.

Winding past

another pack

of girls.

 

 

He changes course

to meet them. Banging

his leg on a pool

table as he

crosses the room.

He seems to

ignore it and the girls

laugh

but he just smiles back and

laughs

too.

 

I see him,

dribbling compliments

on the ladies. His

elbows cocked

and head

tilted

slightly

as he tries to form

a sentence

or a line

from a movie

he’s seen:

(before these girls were born)

where someone like

him,

can have girls

like them

and isn’t

alone.

 

I turn away, and realise

it’s too late, and

I have to go.
I gather my things

to leave the pub,

look at Sticky,

and ask

before I go:

 

“Is he still with Lorraine?”

 

Sticky shakes his head.

 

“Left him for another woman.”

 

I look at the Wanker;

who is telling a story

to the girls

who are laughing,

but not at the jokes:

at the Wanker.

Whose just

standing there-

Trying to find

 

that sunrise

again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Literary Exchange: Poetry by Tayne Ephraim

international literary exchange, Poetry

Carpe Diem

Under the cracked yellow walls

of movie sets

In the bar

by the old river, where candles

float away

in tiny paper boats

In painted wicker chairs

wild-eyed

drunk on youth

In tailored boots, leather

denim jacket

4 a.m.  on dead streets

joy-riding with drug dealers

through curtains

of misted rain

crashing the bike

and making them cry

Mekong

                        I took the ’67

                        for a ride in the paddies

                        dressed in sweat

                        & with cigarette

                        & with bloodshot

                        eyes we were quick

                        & covered in dust

                        the sun licked us

                        through the haze

                        from a dim room

                        & with wine

                        in my eyes

                        I watch myself go by

                        lost in a neon mirage

                        the unloving night

                        ebbs on

International Literary Exchange: Poetry by Donna Waters

international literary exchange, Poetry

Mother Ganga

       from the shores of the holy ganges

The sadhu squats low on the ghat.

Ochre robes lull in your water as he scoops.

Three times bending and three times scooping.

Just before dawn.

 

Day brings rich paradox.

Crowds come alone for their baptism. Others wash,

the thwacking of saris wave the boats on.

Your gentleness laps destitute steps.

 

The noontide herd of rickshaws and cows approach

There is little room left to honour you. Still

men and women bow their offerings in

rhythmic genuflection.

 

Still, you welcome them, their brass vessels,

their minute vibrations and prayers.

You welcome also, the disoriented strangers

with their wonderment in camera bags.

 

It is long after dark now. The smell of flesh tangible

from the pyres offering their dead.

Red shrouded women and men in white

sit upright as the flames contort.

 

And they, the richer

are the fortunate ones.

 

You welcome them on their makeshift rafts. You mourn

for those left on the ghat. You weep

for those too poor for you

to carry them on their final journey. Still

 

You welcome.

 

Something About Her

 

‘So another girl eh?’ (nothing special, better luck next time)

Born on time and in the natural way,

her father held her screams and wondered,

waiting for her mother to return

with fifty-three stitches, drunk on anaesthesia,

he wondered what exactly was the natural bit.

 

She grew and its name began silent. Watching,

she waved and clapped and curled, and

its name took voice and became

Misery. Waking her one day with screams

it made plans to never leave. Her father bewildered, busied;

her mother’s days full of grieving minutes.

 

Age four, its name was Insidious. She grew

quiet and gentle and curious. And tired

at ten o’clock with a swollen belly full of fear.

‘Toddler diarrhoea – she’ll grow out of it. Try cutting

out sugar. Wheat. Dairy. Try cutting

Out -’

 

She stood at six, rotund and weary beside siblings, exuberant and

thin. Her parents listening to more specialist talks of

calories in and out until one listened back and

looked. Ten by fifteen centimetre homogeneous neoplasm.

Caught out by a scan but not yet given

name casting her mother and father mute.

 

Not pretty enough to don the glossy hospital

newsletter. Overlooked for the blonde angel

with the club foot whose mother grimaced and asked of

the scar dividing her in half.

G a n g l i o n e u r o b l a s t o m a:

a benign word with malignant intent.

 

Brave and strong, she endured legal Special K and

sent letters to her friends. She asked its name, the

lump in her tummy that shouldn’t be there and ate

the first Icy Pole like a banquet. Mother held her hand and

sister cartwheeled. Her father devoured

information and hope like a sunrise knowing with a

ferocity that despite the lifelong

monitoring and no guarantees – she will survive:

There’s just something about her.

 

International Literary Exchange: The Driver’s Seat by Liam Copeland

Fiction, international literary exchange

The boy’s on his way to work when he hears the man call out. It’s a warm and sticky morning, sunlight gleaming off passing cars. The man doesn’t say the boy’s name, just ‘Excuse me!’ as loud as he can over the sound of traffic.

The boy stands at a busy intersection. He can see a fountain, the library, the shopping centre where he works. He can see a police station where uniformed men and women pass through sensor doors. And he can see this man, waiting at the red light, head poking from the window of his car. There’s confusion as other pedestrians assume ownership of the ‘Excuse me!’ But it’s the boy he wants. The man in the car makes that clear enough.

He’s not sure why he doesn’t just ignore the man, pretend not to notice. He thinks it’s probably got something to do with the way he’s been singled out. There’s something honourable in being handpicked from the street by a stranger. The boy puts a finger to his chest, mouthing, ‘Me?’ and the man nods his head furiously, waving the boy over. The light is still red as he worms between stationary cars.

‘You,’ says the man, sweat running down his face. ‘I need a favour. I’m not crazy. My name’s Robert Night. Now you know my name.’ The man never lets go of the wheel, and the boy notices a woman in the passenger seat and two children in the back, one of them a baby. He tries to focus on Robert.

‘Listen, I need a favour,’ he says.

‘A favour?’ says the boy.

‘Tell me your name. Let’s get some trust happening here.’

‘What’s the favour?’

‘Your name?’

‘Toby … Hutchings. Is that important?’ He can feel the myriad eyes of people in purring cars.

‘It’d be easier for you to screw me over if we were nameless. You could drive this thing anywhere you want,’ says Robert, glancing up at the traffic light, which is still red. ‘Names are important,’ he adds. The woman leans forward to speak, but he says something to her that Toby doesn’t catch, and she sits back in her seat, pouting. The baby is crying.

‘I need you to park this car. I’m not crazy. You know my name. I need you to park it because I’m late for a job interview and she can’t drive a stick,’ he says, becoming more urgent. The woman leans forward for a second then slumps back in her seat again.

‘I’ve been looking for a place to park the past thirty minutes. I’m already late. Will you do it for me, Toby Hutchings?’ says Robert, hunched over the wheel, a desperate man. A job interview. A woman who can’t drive a stick.

There’s something honourable in being handpicked from the street by a stranger, and Toby can’t look past this. He’s already forgotten about his own job at the shopping centre and how he’s supposed to start in ten minutes. It’s elating to be trusted solely on the way you wait to cross a road. What does he have that the others don’t?

The light goes green as Toby slides into Robert’s seat and watches him disappear between cars in the rear-view mirror.

The woman is wearing sunglasses and doesn’t say a word until they’ve passed through the intersection and are waiting in traffic on the other side. The baby has stopped crying.

‘I’m Bunny,’ she says. ‘My husband told me to tell you my name. You won’t kill me that way.’

‘Is that a real concern?’ he says, tapping the footbrake and forcing a laugh. His foot is the only movement in the car. The others can sense this—the woman, Bunny, and her two children. They’re crowded around the foot, trusting it with their lives. They listen to the plunging sound of the brake. He hopes she hasn’t noticed the way his legs tremble. ‘I was just on my way to work,’ he says. ‘The brake’s a bit clammy.’

‘I can drive a stick, you know’ she says, watching Toby change gears. ‘He just doesn’t want me driving his car.’

‘But he lets me? He doesn’t know me.’

‘I think that’s why. He knows what you look like, your name. He knows more than that about me. He won’t let me drive it. Trust is weird like that, don’t you think?’

‘Why me, though? He was clearly singling me out. Should you drive?’

‘You look harmless, maybe. You’re in work clothes. They are work clothes? A uniform operates like a name. It’s honest or something.’

‘They’re work clothes. I’m a cleaner. At the shopping centre down the road. The big one. Wait, should you drive?’

‘What do you think? What if Robert found out?’ she says, implicitly. ‘How old are you, Toby Hutchings?’

‘Is this like the name thing?’

I’m thirty-four, If that helps.’

He says, ‘Twenty-one,’ even though he’s eighteen, and is not sure why he lies. Maybe it’s because he’s just noticed her legs, the way she looks at him. He wonders if this is breaching the trust that Robert Night has invested in him.

The clock in the dashboard says 8:53. He’s bumper to bumper when he readjusts the seat, settles into his role. Would the radio be too much? Too comfortable?

‘Do you mind if I put the air-con on?’ he says when the baby starts to cry.

‘Halfway. It stinks of cigarettes,’ she says, undoing her seatbelt, attending to the baby. She lifts it from the capsule anchored to the back seat. The little boy doesn’t say a word as he watches his mother handle his sibling. Toby guesses the boy to be seven, the baby is practically a newborn. Toby wonders if he’s in a position to tell Bunny to put her seatbelt back on.

‘Say hi to Toby, Cole,’ says Bunny, talking to the seven-year-old now. ‘His name is Cole,’ she says to Toby, cradling the baby in her arms. ‘Do you need this one’s name?’

‘I’m not a k-i-l-l-e-r,’ he says, smiling, spelling it out. ‘I was on my way to work.’

‘Hi Toby,’ says Cole, an innocent voice from the backseat. The boy’s feet dangle as he writes something in the window dirt with his finger. The baby is crying.

‘Pull into that McDonalds,’ says Bunny, undoing a button on her shirt, letting a breast drop to the baby’s lips. The silence is instantaneous. The nipple is red and inflamed, the breast full and pale. Bunny’s hair falls around it, framing the glorious milky bulb. She never removes her sunglasses.

‘Robert told me to park the car,’ says Toby, tightening his grip on the steering wheel, trying to accept the presence of the single breast. ‘I should really do that. Only that.’

‘We don’t have to stop the car. That’s what the drive-thru is for. Fast food. Yippee,’ she says, manipulating the baby’s head into a better position. ‘You don’t look convinced.’

He nods without looking at her and crosses a double line, pulling into the McDonalds. A car beeps, loud and brash, extending into a haze of monotonous traffic noise. Cole is ecstatic when he sees the golden arches, the playground. He bounces in his seat, dragged from his stupor. ‘Dad never lets us eat here,’ he says, digging a foot into the back of the driver’s seat.

Toby manoeuvres the car around a low hedge, clipping the gutter, a scraping sound—an utterance of damage. The front right wheel lifts momentarily before dropping back to the road. The suspension breathes in and out.

‘Is your plan to crash the car? Call it an accident?’ says Bunny.

‘The brakes are clammy,’ he says, the ‘sinister’ jokes grating on him.

They pull up alongside the intercom and Toby winds down his window while Cole stands on his seat, pushing his head through a gap. Cole pretends to be reading the menu board, but he knows what he wants and shouts it at the speaker grill when it asks, ‘How can I help you?’ Bunny doesn’t look up from the child suckling at her inflamed nipple. She crosses her legs, repositions the baby, and the small shorts she’s wearing slide up her thigh.

‘Order me something,’ she says to Cole, handing her purse to Toby, who accepts it without a word, kneading it in his palm. The transaction is subtle and natural, trust earned, names exchanged, favours played out.

At the first window, Toby reaches into the purse and hands over a twenty. He recognises the cashier from somewhere, and as she reaches over with the change, he reads her nametag: Meagan. She’s younger than him—she’d be slightly removed from his circle. The name is definitely familiar.

‘Dylan,’ she says, peering into the car, eyeing the woman breastfeeding nonchalantly. ‘Do you remember me? Is this your … family?’

‘I’m Toby,’ is all he says, easing the car to the next window, collecting his food, and pulling away. Meagan appears behind the second cashier to watch him go, her face vacant. She mouths something, a collection of words he can’t make out. Bunny doesn’t look up. Cole is rummaging around in the bag of food, slurping on a thickshake, saying, ‘I won’t tell dad,’ over and over.

Toby pulls back into traffic, brakes for a car changing lines, thinks to beep his horn but doesn’t. A police car pulls up alongside them at the traffic lights, a woman speaking into a radio, the man making brief eye contact with him. The light goes green, the traffic thins and Bunny is pointing at a car park, saying ‘There, there,’ between mouthfuls of food. Milk is trickling over the baby’s downy cheeks. Cole says, ‘I won’t tell dad.’

Toby reverses into the spot, concentrating hard, and the engine is dead before he notices the handicap sign. ‘I can’t park here,’ he says.

‘It’ll be fine,’ says Bunny, undoing her seatbelt, redoing her shirt button. The breast disappears. ‘I won’t tell dad,’ she says smiling, as he looks around for the police car.

‘Can’t,’ he says, turning the engine back on. ‘You’ll get fined. He’ll make me pay it. I told you I’m a fucking cleaner.’ He moves off the gutter. The baby is crying. Bunny is staring at him.

‘You’re taking this very seriously. Good for you.’

‘He trusted me,’ he says, sweating.

‘I think you need to keep driving. You like the power. You could take us anywhere really. You’re the one in the driver’s seat.’

‘What’s the job interview?’ he says, turning back onto the main road, changing the subject. The clock in the dashboard says 9:12. He thinks about the word: fuck. Why did he use it? Has the trust been shattered? Has he taken it too far?

‘I don’t know exactly. Is this something you need to know? Will more information prevent you from killing us?’

Something darts beyond the bonnet of the car and he doesn’t get a chance to reply. The glint of colour gets his attention. The thud is heavy and dense and he feels it through the steering wheel. Cole screams. It doesn’t take long for Toby to realise he’s hit a cyclist. The bike is on its side, bent at the frame, its back wheel spinning at an odd angle. He can feel the myriad eyes of people in purring cars. Everything’s on hold, the crowd waiting on his next move—time waiting to recommence.

Toby steps from the car. He’s alone in the middle of this scene, he and the twisted figure in bright coloured Lycra. He approaches the man stuck to the road, supine.

‘Shit. Are you ok?’ he says, running his hands through his hair.

‘I think so. How’s the bike look? The car?’ the man says, sitting now, undoing the clasp on his helmet. Blood seeps from a cut on his knee, collects at his sock.

Toby pretends to look, says, ‘Fine, don’t worry about that.’

‘It was my fault,’ says the man, gently rising. He looks Toby in the eye for the first time. ‘Dylan?’ he says, confused.

Hastily, Toby helps the man wheel his bike off the road, and traffic resumes. He looks back at Robert Night’s car, Robert Night’s family—everything he’s been trusted with. He can see Bunny’s face, contorted into a silent scream, yelling at Cole in the back seat.

Dylan?’ the cyclist calls out as Toby races back toward the car, refusing ownership.

He slides back into the driver’s seat, turns the key in the ignition. The key belongs to him now—he’s earned it. The key is what operates the car, so he’s earned that too. Is she right, does he like the power?

Soon they’re back in traffic, then pulling off onto a side-street.

‘You’ve really abused the trust now,’ says Bunny. ‘Is there blood on the bonnet?’

He ignores her, keeps looking in the rear-view mirror.

‘Did you know that man on the bike?’

It’s a warm and sticky morning, sunlight gleaming off passing cars. The clock in the dashboard says 9:34.

He thinks about trust. There’s a weight to the word, an expectation, a pressure. It can end up in the wrong hands. A misuse. Trust exists between Robert Night and Toby Hutchings. Dylan was never entered into that agreement. Dylan is met with other expectations. Is she right, does he need to keep driving? Can he take them anywhere?

‘You know, Robert’s probably done with the interview by now,’ she says.

He doesn’t reply, just takes another detour, venturing further out of town.

‘Your name’s not Toby Hutchings,’ she says to herself.

Everything’s quiet and the passengers hear the child-lock come on.

 

 

Non-Fiction: Beauty Capturer by Hanna Elizabeth Yost

Non-Fiction

The doctors swarm like flies to blood. I twitch with anxiety, ready to slap a mosquito on the back of my neck at any moment. But I am indoors, surrounded by pastel walls and sterile supplies. “Who is the current president?” they ask. “Barack Obama,” he replies. “And who was the president before him?” The doctor asks his clipboard. My father says, “President Ford.” I rub my palms on the fabric of my skirt, trying to get rid of the clammy feeling.

He’s tired again. He won’t say that he is, but with a bandage around your head and a drugged expression, it’s hard to look anything but tired. I scoot my chair closer and lean toward him, inclined to lessen the distance. I smile and say, oh no no no. You did fine. As if it were a graded test. Pass or fail. You’ll do better tomorrow.

He reaches his arm out, palm facing upward. This is our signal to one another. All those drives in the pick-up truck. In between shifting and flicking through radio stations, he would put his hand out. Hello, don’t worry. I’m here. The miles may stretch out before us, but just grab my hand and it will be okay. Squeeze. Let go. Shift. I take his hand in mine and can do nothing but rest my arms on the edge of the bed with my face down. His other arm moves gently, careful not to pull the IV, and his fingers come to rest on my head, trailing through my hair.

My face pressed hard against my skin, I think of what this must look like to other people. I think that it would make a good picture. A sad picture, but a good one. I imagine Kelsey in the doorway of the room, face partly concealed by her camera. Photographer is such a generic name. I choose instead to call her a Beauty Capturer. This is beautiful too, isn’t it?

Non-Fiction: Oregon Trail in our Backyard by Geralyn Adams

Non-Fiction

On a rainy day, I could be found looking out the window, staring listlessly as water collected into ponds in the ditches of the gravel driveway. After the rain, I would rock hunt. My little brother Glen and I searched for special rocks in the driveway; geode was our favorite. When I took geology in college I was disappointed to find out that the rocks we thought were geode were actually variations of quartz. We went cruising on our bikes, never far enough though, because my mother told us not to go farther than the dead end of our two streets. Oregon Trail was an escape—we could go farther than we ever had before without leaving the yard.

It was an elaborate pretend game of survival. I foraged for berries, leaves, clovers, flowers, and honeysuckle, putting them in a Frisbee for “dinner” that got served with the imaginary animals he hunted in the woods and brought home to our plastic cabin playhouse. We only ever really ate the nectar from the honeysuckle. We collected twigs for firewood, and put them in our cabin to store up for the harsh winter.

We didn’t have oxen, or a wagon; there were never broken wagon wheels or rivers to be forded. There were no murderous vagabonds; no thieving bandits. No one got typhoid fever, measles, dysentery, or cholera. No one got bitten by a rattle snake. Neither of us ever died. We never settled in our log cabin because it was infested with spiders that had made their home, nestled in every crevasse.

The honeysuckle still grows in the brambles. We have both moved away. I wonder if he remembers those summer afternoons of Manifest Destiny.

Non Fiction: If You Win This Hand by Geralyn Adams

Non-Fiction

 

“If you win this hand, I’ll roll a peanut to China with my nose,” he winked and his whiskers grew into a smile. I chuckled, knowing he would neither win the hand nor roll a peanut to China with his nose, despite its girth.

He usually smelled bad, and always had crud under his fingernails. When he went swimming we’d lovingly call it his yearly bath. At times he was grumpy because someone was making him take a shower or clean under his nails, but the promise of ice cream always livened him. He had type two diabetes and when someone complained the ice cream would affect his blood sugar, he said to let him die happy, with his ice cream. In his eighties he lived more than anyone I had known.

“Want to hear my Italian impression?”

“Sure, Grandpa.”

“Put the macarroni in the icea boxa,” he laughed at his own joke. His grin was hidden beneath his beard, but I always knew he was smiling when his eyes lit up.

Grandpa, Grandpa!,” the grandchildren shouted enthusiastically.

One day during a particularly long camping trip in Tennessee he said, “Call me Grandma, I’m tired of being called Grandpa.” My little brothers took to calling him grandma, they thought it was hilarious.

The earlier memories are fuzzy; some are just stories I have heard along with vague figments of recollection. I do remember scaling fish with him—the smell, and the feel of scales under my fingernails. I remember walking on wooden planks he put in place, they led to the Mattawoman. As I played in the creek I scared fish from his nets. I remember how my brother Gabriel was scared of Grandpa at first because he had never seen anyone with a beard—he would cry louder if Grandpa tried to talk to him or dare to pick him up. Gabriel got over his fear of the beard and became Grandpa’s buddy—he learned from John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, he dressed like a cowboy and if you pretended to shoot him he died valiantly. He twirled around and cried out in agony, “Ah, you got me!” and fell, lying with his tongue hanging out.

When Grandpa was seventy he was having a heart attack. I remember climbing the narrow staircase to see him. He was holed up in his room with a gun, threatening to shoot—no one was making him go to the hospital, over his dead body. He gave in and got a pacemaker. My parents warned me against going up those rickety stairs, but I didn’t listen, I just wanted to be with Grandpa. Lo and behold, one day I tumbled down those stairs and had to get stitches in my head. All I remember was afterward, when the stitches were being taken out, kicking my dad while he held me in place so the doctor could snip out the strings. I wonder if I still have the scar.

I still have a scar on my forehead where Grandpa scratched me when I was an infant. I don’t know if it was an accident, other family members joked that he was marking me “Me number one pattawon.”

If I told you some of the stories of my grandfather, you would not believe me. I have seen photos, I am a believer. He evaded water police on the Potomac in his riverboat. He punched a cop, cursed out a judge, and landed himself in prison. He escaped a few times.

“Wie geht’s, Grandpa?”

“I’m not going anywhere!”

I never knew if he was joking or not during this exchange, but I like to think he was being a smart alec.

“Wie viele Männer hast du? Halt, ich schieße! ”

He taught me German phrases from the War when we sat in the car waiting on my mother during her road runnings. He began to tell me stories.

A common story I heard was how he found Jesus. He was in a fox hole, it was night.  A man told him about how his father had cattle on a thousand hills and a mansion on a hilltop. He thought the guy was loaded; he said he better watch out for him, stick with this guy. The man must have went on to explain about his rich heavenly father, the streets of gold and gates of pearl. That sounded like a pretty good deal to Grandpa. The story always stopped there. Christianity sounded like a get rich quick scheme.

“Ich liebe dich, liebst du mich? ” he slurred his German like an alcoholic. I smiled.

“You’re the prettiest girl on this side of the Mason-Dixon, Sherylanne, ” He could never say my name right, and it never bothered me, “Hell, we could put you in a potato sack and you’d still be just as beautiful. ”

“Gin rummy, ” I smiled, “I’m out. Where’s that peanut?”

Non Fiction: Mourning by Christopher Brennan

Non-Fiction

The first thing I noticed was the quiet.

There was silence in the school hall that morning. There was no scuffle of shoes across the polished floor. No one was shouting across the hall to get a guy’s attention; no one was talking about how wrecked they got that weekend or how they saw her best friend’s boyfriend totally checking out her best friend. The conversations I usually overheard were gone, hushed down to whispers or not even spoken of. Instead, there was silence.

The second thing I noticed was the tears. I sat down at a table in the cafeteria, noticing a girl I sometimes talked to. She was crying. Her cheeks were puffy and red, her lips shaking, choking down a whimper. Her eyes were bloodshot, mascara running down her face in broken patterns. I asked her what was wrong, but she said nothing. I noticed her face was one of many. Most people had their heads down, but some were up, with the same puffy cheeks and red eyes.

Someone died that weekend. I heard the story in bits and pieces. My friend, composed yet solemn, told me that a junior was in a car accident driving home from a party. He was a year younger than me.

“He wasn’t supposed to be driving,” someone said. All the faces blur together now when I try to recall who said what.

“He was grounded but he went to the party anyway. He stole his mom’s car keys. He didn’t even have his driver’s license yet.”

“He was so drunk, we told him not to go,” someone else said. “but he went anyway, and then—”

The speaker buzzed on. Our principal called us to an assembly in the gym. A short walk from the cafeteria to the gym, the mass of people crowded together, slowly walking towards the heavy doors. I waited in the back so as to not get caught in the crowd. The gym was already lined with chairs. We didn’t have an auditorium or official center so the gym often functioned as both for events like pep rallies and concerts. This wasn’t like that though.

I sat in the back row, near the door. The principal told a similar story to the one I had already heard from the scattered voices. Sometimes, I heard a choked sob. More often, I heard people who didn’t hold anything back.

Like most mornings at a Catholic school, he led us in prayer. It was either a “Hail Mary” or an “Our Father,” sometimes both. The prayer echoed to the ceiling, and everyone who wasn’t sobbing spoke the words with the usual monotony. And then there was the quiet again.

I never knew him. People talked more about him than before, and I learned a few details of this boy. He was a football player, apparently a good one. He went by Jay Ray. I never knew if that was just a nickname or his actual name. He liked that incessant Soulja Boy song, and it was often heard or referenced in the halls during the days to follow.

I went to his wake. I said I would go and for some reason, felt I had to. It was near my school, in a white church that I always passed but seldom paid attention to. Perhaps I felt some sort of obligation to pay my respects. Or perhaps it was out of some morbid curiosity.

I dressed up in a clean, collared shirt and a red tie, not knowing what to expect. Outside, it was brisk but not cold, a typical autumn evening, nothing special about either the weather or the building. Inside the church was a different story. It was filled with people sitting and standing and there was a line stretching around the pews to see the coffin. I went on the line, and I noticed someone I knew sitting down. I waved at her. I don’t think she ever saw me.

The line was quick, but long. People shuffled silently along, but there was a strange sort of murmur in the air. No one looked like they were talking, but you could hear voices. That always seemed to be the way with churches. You expect solemn silence, but there is always an odd hum floating around, sneaking past the statues and crawling along the long windows of stained glass.

The line reached towards the front, where the pews were crowded, and the display of flowers came into clearer view. All white, I noticed suddenly. The flowers, the ceiling, the clothes, the coffin, all around was white and more white. It would have been startling if there wasn’t this muted quality about it, pale and dim. I found myself at the coffin.

It was closed and I sighed with relief, but there were pictures of him surrounding it. Two large ones were the most noticeable, one with him in a jersey and the other looked almost like a prom picture. He was smiling in both. I tried to put a memory to that face. I was searching for some sympathetic memory, a feeling that I would have, at least briefly, known the boy smiling down at the people in black and white. But nothing came to mind. That wake was probably the only time I ever saw him.

I was never great with the idea of death; it frightened me ever since I was a child. I remembered becoming sick when I went to my fist funeral as a boy. I suddenly thought maybe I shouldn’t have come. I prayed silently to this closed coffin and the picture of an unfamiliar face.

Turning around, I saw his family. They were all looking down or staring blankly. Some were crying, but most just looked vacant. My eyes latched onto the mother. I knew she had to be his mother, but I can’t remember her face. I remember her there, that figure sitting down in front, head down and lamenting the loss of her son. She had lost him so suddenly, so quickly, it must have felt like the world was splitting in two. A dozen questions ran through my mind.

She began to look up and I said my condolences without actually saying them. I opened my mouth and the words were there but I couldn’t speak. My voice was caught somewhere in my throat and it stayed there.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I managed to say in a low, low voice. I felt pathetic and useless, and walked out of the church without a second thought. I didn’t stay for any service or prayers. I don’t know what’s worse, that I didn’t stay or that I didn’t want to stay. All I felt was guilt and grief for a boy I never knew.

“How was it?” My mother asked me later.

“Sad,” I said. “Quiet.”

 

Sometimes, it comes back to me, crawling around in my mind. Thoughts and feelings I want to push away, but insist on coming back. This wake is one of many memories I would like to change or delete from my head, but I can’t.

He died and I felt sad and I didn’t know why.

I used to cry when we passed cemeteries when I was little, and I felt sick when I thought about death. I came to terms with it as I grew up, but it never left me, that looming presence of death. It is there to remind me, to remind us, that no matter what we do, no matter how far we fly or how low we fall, we will die one day. I will die one day, and I will be forgotten.

That is what scares us the most, I think. That no one will remember us when we’re gone. I look back to Jay Ray’s wake, thinking of all the people that came and mourned him. Perhaps there were some like me, who went for the sake of going, out of guilt and grief for the loss of someone so young. All those people coming to remember him.

I will never have that.

That is the selfish thought that haunts me on nights when I can’t sleep. I toss and turn, and the thought usually jumps in and out, static in a radio. The harder I try to push it away, the more it comes back, whispering a silent hum in my mind. It tells me that I will die, disappear into nothing, and be forgotten by people who don’t want to remember such sad things.

I’m sure people remember him. It will never leave his family, of course. But he was after all, one victim amongst thousands. His death is hardly any different from all of those other drunk-driving accidents you hear so much about, all the ones you see briefly in the news.

It is always in the quiet these thoughts come, and in the quiet they stay, with memories both tragic and commonplace. I feel this urge to push them away, yet their presence tells me they must be heard, they must tell others their feelings, and ask if they feel them too. Perhaps I just have a coward’s heart. I am young, and all I know is what I have seen and lived through.

All I know is that I will never forget when I mourned a boy I never knew.