Essay from Norman J. Olson

a trip to Fort Lauderdale and points south  

it is hard to travel on employee passes this time of year…  because of spring break travel, the flights are all full…  especially from Minnesota to places in Florida…  but about two weeks ago, we saw a cruise deal that was just too good to pass up…  so on Friday, March 23, 2012, the day before Mary’s birthday, we set out for Fort Lauderdale…  the flight was pretty full, but we managed to get on the first flight we tried…  I did not expect to get on that flight, so had about fifteen pages of back up plans in my suitcase pocket…  but, we found ourselves in FLL shortly after noon…  we had not booked a hotel because our plans were so sketchy, so, in the airport, we went to work on Mary’s new little computer, looking for a hotel…   

well, Miami was full and what little hotel space they had was three or four times what we could afford…  and the only things we could find in the FLL area were out of town on the highway someplace for $150 on up…  then I ran across a small ad for a hotel in Deerfield Beach, just to the north of Fort Lauderdale…  I tried to find a web site for he hotel to see if they had any kind of shuttle service to FLL…  while they did not have a web site, I did find a yellow pages listing for the hotel with a phone number, so I called them…  I got ahold of a guy who said he had lots of rooms for $98…  I asked if he could pick us up at the airport…  he said that he could not pick us up just then because his car was in the shop…  when I explained our situation, he said that his car would probably be out of the shop on Sunday and he could give us a ride to Port Everglades to catch the ship…  I said that I would see what arrangements we could make to get there and if that seemed to work I would call him back…   a very nice old guy with snow white hair and a white mustache accented by his Florida tan and a blue captain’s hat…

  at the information desk told us the options for getting to Deerfield beach which included a taxi for a bout $60, a door to door shuttle for $36 or the train which was four dollars each…  (a rental car would have been about $80—but, since I have gotten older, I prefer not to drive in strange areas, if I can possibly avoid it—plus, that was not the cheapest option anyway)  so we found the shuttle bus that went to the train station…  and while the bus was stuck in traffic I again called the guy at the hotel…  I said it was “me again” which he found hilarious and so we were laughing and joking and getting along famously…  I told him that we were on our way to the train station…  he said that he would have a room for us and that when we got to the train station we would want to take a cab because the hotel was about three miles from the train station…   

the train was great, clean, fast and efficient…  and we got to Deerfield Beach with no problems…  I went into a hotel next to the train station and asked if they had heard about the hotel, which I named, that we were going to…  she said that she did not know that hotel specifically but there were lots of quaint boutique hotels by the beach…  and many of them were nice…  so we called a cab…  well, after a half hour, the cab had not showed up, so I went out to the main street and flagged one down…  it cost $12 to get to the hotel… 

the hotel was small and pink stucco with beautiful tropical plantings all around…  it had a small but nice and clean pool and the owner and I greeted each other like long lost buddies…  the hotel was a bit run down…  well, more than a bit, but the bed was comfortable and the owner and his partner were so friendly and welcoming that we were glad we found the place…  the hotel was only a block from Deerfield Beach, one of those huge and beautiful beaches on that part of the Florida coast…  and while the beach was busy, it was not as crowded as Miami or Fort Lauderdale and there were nice shady places for us to sit and watch the crowd…  families, children, teens, spring breaking college kids, retired Floridians, and Midwestern tourists like us, were enjoying the sun, the mid 80s temps and the cool breeze off the ocean…  we sat in the shade and sketched and read which is what we usually do at the beach…  we waded in the ocean…  had lunch and later dinner at some of the nice and inexpensive restaurants in the area and had a lovely time there from Friday evening to Sunday morning…  each morning, the owners partner, a very muscular and tattooed but friendly young man, made us homemade muffins which he brought to us on a tray with tea Saturday, coffee Sunday…  I think just because we were on such good terms with he and the owner…   

well, on Sunday morning, the owner said that they had turned away many people looking for rooms Friday evening because they were full…  it sounded to me like a sort of novel experience for this poor old hotel to actually be full…  and he was sorry to tell us that his car was still not fixed…  so we called a cab to go to the train station…  but the cabbie offered to take us all the way to Port Everglades for $40 and, considering how few and far between the trains were and the $20 that it would cost to take a cab from the airport to the terminal…  this seemed like a great deal…  the cabbie turned out to be a serious and extreme political liberal and he shared his political views at length during the cab ride…  we agreed with most everything he said and I think that in Florida, he was more used to his fares to the cruise terminal being Bush Republicans…  but it was a love fest all the way…  for us…   

since we had left time for the train, shuttle and taxi, we were in Port Everglades several hours early so, we had the cab drop us at a shopping area just outside the port…  we went to a grocery store and bought some soda to bring on the ship, then found a coffee place were we could sit at shaded tables on the sidewalk and read, sketch and people watch…  everybody told us that we should take a cab to the ship as the port area is very large and spread out accommodating eight or more cruise ships at one time…  but I convinced Mary that we could walk it and we set out in the blazing sun…  after we entered the port area, except for one guy speaking German on his cell phone who came striding past us with his backpack, we did not see any other walkers…  and indeed, there was not even sidewalk for part of the way so we were walking on abandoned railroad tracks for about a quarter of a mile…  the port was huge and not set up at all for walkers but we eventually found our ship… 

we stopped at one point to ask a security guard who was directing people into a different ship how we got to our ship and she pointed us exactly the wrong way…  well, I thought she was wrong, and so got a second opinion from somebody who actually knew how to get where we wanted to go…  so, as I always say, when traveling, it is really hard to get good information…    after about a three mile hike in the hot sun, we arrived at the ship a bit sweaty but none the worse for our walk and we may well be the only Americans who have ever walked to a cruise ship berth in Port Everglades from outside the port…  lol   

the cruise was very nice…  the ship held about 2000 passengers and we spent a lot of time on the Promenade deck, under the lifeboats, enjoying the lovely ocean breeze and the splash of the little waves against the sides of the ship…  I got two drawings finished as well as a number of sketches of people…  and a third drawing started which I will finish when I get a chance…   

the ports were Grand Turk, a small beach island…  beautiful sand, warm water and palm trees…  San Juan, Puerto Rico…  where we walked around looking in the shops and stores and spent some time sitting in a park enjoying the ambience…  and the island of Sint Maartin…  where we walked around two shopping districts…  the first was a long street just back from the beach which is full of jewelry stores where apparently many cruise ship passengers buy all kinds of fancy jewelry and then a few blocks further back into the town the local shopping area which was mostly advertising “urban wear” and was much poorer and more run down…   

we stopped in a kind of pathetic little casino to use the restroom and then went back to the beach where we sat in the shade of one of the very nice rustic tourist bars and had a drink…  I almost never drink alcohol but we decided to get a margarita and share it…  so we ordered that and paid the $6…  the barman said that he had some “extra” so he gave us two for the price of one…  and I must say, the cold, icy drink went very well there as we sat and watched the beachgoers and other tourists in that gorgeous tropical setting…  we had a nice visit with the barman who told us about his years living in the USA but he was born in the islands and had come back home…    after Sint Maartin, we had another beach day at Half Moon Cay which is a very small beach island in the Bahamas that the cruise line leases…  from the shade of palm trees, we enjoyed the beautiful beach… 

we swam in the ocean…  the water was turquoise and absolutely clear…  then we walked around the island…    we saw more sea life than usual on this cruise…  one day, we saw lots of dolphins… at one point, about eight at once were jumping through the ship’s bow wave…  we also saw beautiful sea birds going after the multitudes of flying fish chased up by the ship…  and on one occasion we saw a small group of humpback whales…   we saw one dive with his/her massive flukes coming out of the water maybe a half mile out from the ship and then one jumped all the way out of the water and made a huge splash… so, that was very cool to see…   Sunday morning we were back in FLL… 

we knew the flights were very tight, so basically were listed for anything that had any seats at all…  we wound up getting on a flight to Detroit…  and though all the seats from DTW to MSP were full, we managed to make a connection through Grand Rapids, Michigan, so after four hours in the Grand Rapids airport, we got on a little 50 seat CRJ regional jet to Minneapolis…  flew over Lake Michigan and then the lights of Central Wisconsin…  it made kind of a long day of travel, but it all worked out and now we are back to our unusually early spring in Minnesota with trees already beginning to leaf and green grass…  both a bit earlier than usual…     

Poetry from Christopher Bernard

The Tower                                                  

By Christopher Bernard  

                                                A card held high above the crowd,                                                 stiff with prediction from the deck.                                                 The monumental avatar                                                 of danger, wreck, catastrophe,                                                 disaster, liberation: the tower                                                 rived by lighting, crowned with fire.                                                   A Roma girl holds it high and free:                                                 it tells of fortune: catastrophe                                                 promises possibility.                                                 Annihilated or redeemed?                                                 Destroyed? Or saved? Shout and blare                                                 rock the roads. The mob is there,                                                 motley, young, and angry crammed                                                 between the city and the sea.                                                  The crowd surges like the tide.                                                                                   March treads, chants shout,                                                 in a bizarrely cheerful stampede                                                 in chaotic polyphony.                                                   The beautiful young, the desperate young                                                 entombed in beauty, take the bow                                                 cutting the sea of their elders’ calm,                                                 the doldrums of death on the dead reefs;                                                 they shout at the old half in their graves                                                 as if such shouts might us all save.                                                   They march. They march. They shake their signs,                                                 their smiles are bitter, their eyes are kind.                                                   Their parents slip, contrite, ashamed,                                                 a mass at the back; good followers all,                                                 as they always were—now in parade                                                 behind their young, behind them all                                                               (a crowd that always followed the crowd),                                                 sleepwalking toward a murderous sea                                                 that might be their posterity.                                                   And yet they march. They march. They march                                                 under the tower toward the future’s sea.                                                   Together they go, in the maze of the city,                                                 in hope and despair, in courage and woe.                                                   “Where do you come from? Where do you go?”                                                 the girl seems to ask in courage and woe.                                                 “We march under the tower of fire and woe.                                                 We march to the future inscribed in the Tarot!”                                                   And they march. And they march. And that Roma girl                                                 casts her spell upon us all.                                                 “We march toward the future. What will we find?”—                                                 Its smile is bitter, its eyes are kind.

                                                                                                  —September 20, 2019

  _____   Christopher Bernard’s latest collection of poems, The Socialist’s Garden of Verses, will be published in 2020.    

Short story from Denis Emorine

Irina


by Denis Emorine

Translated from the French by Phillip John Usher

He was fifty-six.  For a little over a year the attacks had become less frequent.  In the bedroom mirror he saw a puffy face with thickened traits.  Jean had never found himself handsome but, recently, he had been avoiding his reflection in the mirror. He sighed, turned around. The writer, as Jean called himself, looked down at his watch: she would be here soon. The young woman had come up to him yesterday, after the conference, and said she was a journalist. She wrote for some review whose name he didn’t know. What was her name again? Irina… Curious, he thought, a Russian first name and yet she spoke with an Italian accent.  The writer, who loved things exotic, was delighted by this unexpected contradiction.  Irina had wanted to continue the interview in a more private setting. “My hotel room, is it really suitable for me to meet a young woman there who could be my daughter?” thought the writer smugly, proud of himself.  Right away, he had made his advances with a disconcerting amount of self-control.  And beautiful Irina hasn’t tried to push him away: “What will be will be” she replied, her eyes lighted by a will for challenge.
Jean had seen her walk away, unsettlingly striking in her suit of royal blue. Irina waved a small wave before disappearing. “This evening, she would be his, that was sure.”
Back at his hotel, a message was waiting waiting for him from the mysterious journalist which left no doubt as to her intentions. The writer was gloated on his luck.  Decidedly, literature could lead to anything or rather… to anyone, he corrected, happy with his stroke of wit.
Jean thought about his wife who had stayed in Paris and he quickly realized -not displeased- that he was going to cheat on her for the first time. For sure, there had been plenty of opportunities but, in thirty years of marriage, the writer had only committed adultery in his imagination. So, why then take this opportunity at a conference in Lisbon on “Culture : Europe’s (heavy) conscience”? He didn’t know. Their meeting certainly had spice to it.  Obviously, literature was only a pretext: the unknown woman was no more a journalist than he was an archbishop; she had deliberately chosen to seduce him. It was not an unpleasant thing.
He flicked through Pavel Armoria’s “Trajectories”, one of the books he’d taken with him: “The room was in darkness. At present, the old man had nothing to wait for. He opened his eyes… Rain covered the town.” This sentence made him somewhat melancholy. The coincidence struck him: it had been raining over Lisbon since he arrived. What did that matter?  He was going to roll in the hay with this belle inconnue! No call for the blues, huh? “It’s the first time”, he thought again. “Another good reason to make the most of it, at your age!” added an interior voice.
She would soon be here now. Jean imagined Irina, slowly undressing in front of him, revealing… All of a sudden, his heart was knotted with pain: quickly, my medication, quickly! Had he at least brought it with him? Bent in two, panting, he rummaged in his suitcase… Not there! Where had his wife put them? … Yes, he remembered now, his pills were in his suit, on the bed! While he dragged himself towards the crumpled clothes, someone knocked at the door. He didn’t open. Irina was in front of him. She looked at him with an indescribable expression. “Is this what you’re looking for, oh love of my life?” she laughed.  Jean looked up.  His medication! How had she been able to… She must have taken it from his pocket while they’d been speaking.  The writer winced with pain, it was a serious attack. Irina was a couple of steps away, her poise a challenge. She took off her long blue dress, she was naked. “Come get them if you want them, my love”, she murmured, “but you’ll have to tackle me and my body. Be careful, the doctor’s told you to avoid strong emotions”. Jean could no longer offer any reply.  The pain was increasing, his breath was short. “One last time…” he mumbled. All of a sudden, he had the impression his wife was leaning over him, placing her hands on his shoulders. Jean felt a kind of well-being wash over him. He reached out his arms in her direction, tried once more to stand up before crashing down heavily to the floor.

Denis Emorine

Irina

Il avait cinquante-six ans. Heureusement, depuis un peu plus d’un an les crises s’étaient estompées. Le miroir de la chambre  lui renvoya un visage bouffi, aux traits épais. Jean ne s’était jamais trouvé vraiment beau mais, ces derniers temps, il évitait de se regarder dans la glace. Il soupira puis se détourna. L’écrivain consulta sa montre : elle ne devrait plus tarder maintenant. La jeune femme l’avait accosté hier, après le congrès, en précisant qu’elle était journaliste. Elle écrivait dans une revue dont le nom lui était inconnu. Comment s’appelait-elle, déjà ? Irina … Curieux, pensa-t-il, un prénom russe alors qu’elle parle français avec un accent italien ! Cette anomalie ravissait l’écrivain, grand amateur d’exotisme. Irina avait manifesté le désir de poursuivre l’entretien dans un endroit plus intime. « Ma chambre d’hôtel, est-ce bien convenable pour une jeune femme qui pourrait être ma fille ? » avait rétorqué l’écrivain avec fatuité. Aussitôt, il lui avait fait des avances avec un aplomb déconcertant. La belle Irina ne s’était pas dérobée : « Soit. Advienne que pourra » avait-elle répondu, une lueur de défi dans les yeux.

Jean l’avait regardée s’éloigner, si troublante dans ce tailleur bleu roi. Irina lui fit un petit signe de la main avant de disparaître.  Ce soir, elle lui appartiendrait, c’était sûr.  A son hôtel l’attendait un message de la mystérieuse journaliste qui ne laissait aucun doute sur ses intentions. L’écrivain jubilait. Décidément la littérature menait à tout ou plutôt… à toutes ! rectifia-t-il, heureux de ce trait d’esprit.

            Jean pensa à son épouse restée seule à Paris et brusquement il réalisa -non sans déplaisir- qu’il allait la tromper pour la première fois. Certes, les occasions n’avaient pas manqué ; pourtant, en trente ans de mariage, l’écrivain n’avait commis l’adultère qu’en imagination. Alors, pourquoi à la faveur de ce congrès à Lisbonne sur « La culture : (mauvaise) conscience de l’Europe » ? Il n’aurait su le dire. Cette rencontre ne manquait pas de piquant. Evidemment, la littérature n’était qu’un prétexte : l’inconnue n’était pas plus journaliste que lui archevêque ; elle avait délibérément choisi de le séduire. Ce n’était pas désagréable. 

Distraitement, l’écrivain feuilleta « Trajectoires » de Pavel Armoria, un des livres qu’il avait emportés : «La pièce était dans la pénombre. A présent, le vieil homme n’attendait plus rien. Il rouvrit les yeux …. La pluie recouvrait la ville. » Cette phrase lui causa une certaine mélancolie. La coïncidence le frappa : c’était vrai, il pleuvait sur Lisbonne depuis son arrivée. Aucune importance ! Il allait s’envoyer en l’air avec une belle inconnue ! Pas de quoi succomber au spleen, non ? « C’est la première fois » pensa-t-il encore. « Raison de plus pour en profiter, à ton âge ! » ajouta une autre voix intérieure.

            Elle n’allait plus tarder à présent. Jean imaginait Irina, se déshabillant devant lui avec lenteur, dévoilant… Soudain la douleur vrilla son cœur : les médicaments, vite, ses médicaments ! Est-ce qu’il les avait emportés, au moins ? Cassé en deux, haletant, il fouilla dans sa valise…Rien ! Où sa femme avait-elle bien pu ? … Oui, il s’en souvenait à présent, les pilules étaient dans son costume, sur le lit ! L’écrivain se traînait vers le vêtement froissé lorsqu’on frappa à la porte. Il ne répondit pas. Irina était devant lui. Elle le regardait avec une expression indéfinissable. « C’est ça que tu cherches, amour de ma vie ? » s’exclama-t-elle en riant. Jean releva la tête. Ses médicaments ! Comment avait-elle pu ? Elle les avait certainement pris dans sa poche, lors de leur conversation. L’écrivain grimaçait de douleur, la crise était sérieuse. Irina se tenait à quelques pas de lui dans une attitude de défi. Elle ôta sa longue robe bleue. Elle  était nue. « Viens les chercher, mon amour, murmura-t-elle, mais il faudra me passer sur le corps. Fais très attention, le médecin t’a interdit toute émotion. » Jean n’était plus en état de répondre. La douleur augmentait, le souffle lui manquait. « Une dernière fois… » balbutia-t-il. Soudain, il eut l’impression que sa femme se penchait sur lui et posait les mains sur ses épaules. Jean ressentit une sorte de bien-être. Il  tendit les bras dans sa direction, essaya de se relever avant de s’écrouler lourdement sur le sol.

Short story from Eric Robert Nolan

“Shine Now, Fiercely, Forever” By Eric Robert Nolan  

I am going insane.  I have watched my husband burn to death at least 1,000 times. It always begins the same.  It begins with beauty. Stars wheel and blaze in the limitless Nevada firmament – a billion points of light in a blue-black eternity.  We’re several hundred miles from Las Vegas – and near Edward’s childhood home – so the city’s lights cannot dim that fierce starshine.  Shadowed mountains rise in the distance – far from the flat sands surrounding the multi-level platform.  Their rises, slopes and cliffs look slate-metallic-gray, ascending into silver in the moonlight.  The vistas in every direction – which I have seen ad infinitum – are so lovely that, in my increasing present madness, I am no longer certain that I am not dreaming them.

Then there are flashes of violet – strobes of dark purple that form mid-air squares and rectangles of light – in advance of the Graviton Propulsion Unit’s (GPU’s) arrival. Finally the GPU appears, growing from a dime-sized sphere to a globe more than 12 feet in diameter, alighting this vast platform, 10 feet from where I sit at the keyboard. Violent violet lightning erupts from the bottom of the GPU, striking the sand below with quick, spindly fingers of plum-colored fire, and splashing rare, strange shades of electric Tyrian everywhere beneath the elevated platform. The GPU itself appears strange as a conveyance.  It looks like a hovering globe of mercury – a perfect floating sphere of liquid metal. 

There is no enclosure.  A traveler simply steps in and out of that moving liquid, wearing goggles and a respirator, and holding that incongruously low-tech looking box with the plain red button that starts the jump.  To enter the GPU is to insert oneself into spinning, shining, liquid tin. Edward emerges, holding the box with the button, and snatching away the goggles and respirator.  For the longest and most painful moment, I am reminded of precisely how much that I love him. Keen blue eyes rest among the Nordic features of his face and below his blonde hair.  They are the most intelligent eyes I have ever beheld – gentle cerulean blue and penetrating at the same time.  And behind his tall, broad frame is the proof of his genius– the most revolutionary machine that any man ever created, a great silver miracle, a device allowing him to travel through time. I’m weeping.

“I’m back!” Edward yells.  “Clarissa!  I made it!” “Edward!”  I scream, too many times by now to count.  “Something’s wrong!  The machine is affecting the platform!   We’re stuck in a temporal loop!  This … this keeps happening!  Over and over!  We’re stuck in a temporal loop!” And then a rare expression of confusion crosses his sharp features.  He furrows his great, broad brow.  “A loop?” And then he burns.  His body, having moved faster than the speed of light, reacts unexpectedly with the atmosphere (or quite expectedly, where I am concerned).  Flames of burning turquoise rise from his limbs.  A pastel high-blue steam seeps from his torso moments later, ascending to sear his surprised face.  His hair catches fire.  His skin blackens.  His eyeballs ignite, and burst in their sockets. He screams. And then Edward and the GPU are gone. The stars wheel and blaze, the silver mountains shimmer in the distance, and the Nevada night is quiet. Seven minutes elapse. And then those flashes of violet lightning begin again, signaling the GPU’s impending arrival. 

“I’m back!  Clarissa!  I made it!” I want to die.   One of the peculiar things about Edward’s invention of the GPU is that he indeed preferred the term “time travel.”  Other scientists do not.  Most quantum physicists in the mid-21st Century believe the term is a misnomer, suggesting that a traveler can move forward and back in time in the same manner as a person can travel back and forth between points in space.  They instead allow only for the one-way, forward “time dilation” that has already been proven possible by relativistic physics. Edward differed.  His hypothesis about bona fide “time travel” was linked closely to string theory, which states that each quantum one-dimensional “string” could “vibrate.”  These vibrations caused infinite quantum states that were actually infinite parallel universes. Vibrating strings emitted gravitons, and therefore a gravitational force. Edward asked what would happen if a string could simply be “plucked,” and if its resulting gravitational force could be harnessed.   

Could the person doing so then ride it like a wave, as a surfer rides an ocean wave?  Could he ride it forward and backward in time, cruising along the “string” that is our particular universe? As it turns out, he could.  Edward proved it.  Edward proved with the endless hell in which he placed me.   “I’m back!  Clarissa!  I made it!” “Edward!  This madness has got to stop!  We’re stuck in a temporal loop!  I’m living this over and over!  And … you burn.  You …” The air grows hot, then, with searing turquoise flames – deadly bright electric pastel blue.  My husband burns before me.  

I wonder about string theory.  While I occupy this vibration of the string, confounded in its malfunctioning endless loop of time, what about the infinite other Clarissa Holdens?  What might be transpiring for my counterparts in parallel universes, if they were each incrementally different in their outcomes?  Might other vibrations offer merciful fates for other ‘me’s?  Were other versions of me unsnared by this loop?  Do these fortunate analogs, to whom the fates have shown mercy, grieve for Edward, and then cope and move on following his loss? And what terrible turn of the fates had happened here, to cause the time loop?  Edward’s initial reality-bending excursion had caused it somehow … had the GPU simply tangled the string of our universe?  

“I’m back!  Clarissa!  I made it!” “Edward.”  I am sobbing so heavily that I cannot adequately form words.  I want to tell him that we are both in hell.  This time, I remember to turn away before his eyes explode.   During my cyclic seven-minute reprieves, I’ve tried so many times to prevent Edward’s return.  I have cut power to the machine itself, but its energy is largely kinetic, and connected with that unstoppable spinning mercury sphere.  I have deleted the string navigational grid while the unit is in transport.  I have smashed the keyboard in front of me to pieces beneath my fists.  Nothing can avert the outcome, though.  Edward always arrives and dies.

His screams are always made strange as his larynx incinerates. I have even simply leapt from the platform and tried to run away.  I have raced for the unattainable heaven of the western horizon – that forever-away, thin line between black-shadowed land and the cooling air of a violet-onyx universe.  But the radius of the machine’s relentless magic extends farther than I can run.  One moment I am bolting, the sound of every muffled footstep in the sand is a soft, vain promise of possible relief.  Another moment, and I am seated beside the unearthly, agonizing beauty of that moving, tall ball of bright burning nickel.  

“I’m back!  Clarissa!  I made it!” “I love you.  I hate you.  You did this to me – to both of us.” “You what?” I can feel the heat on my face every time.  Even when I squeeze my eyes shut, that terrible turquoise light sears my irises.  Even when I cover my ears, I can hear my husband screaming.   The platform here, in this arid, remote, and hidden stretch of sands, is arguably the most advanced laboratory in the world.  Erecting it here near his childhood home was a key passage in Edward’s odyssey.  It looks like a strange, cluttered and busy elevated oil rig.  The nocturnal Nevada sands, cooling from the day’s merciless heat, are the platform’s ironic sea. The platform contains all manner of tools and toolboxes, containing everything from wrenches to soldering guns to black market circuit boards.  I bolt for the oversized, firetruck-red toolbox at the southeast corner. No sooner is the boxcutter in my hands than I am opening up my left forearm, lengthwise.  I stare desperately at the dark red, gaping effusion of the wounds along my veins.  I do not think I can even feel the pain.  But I can fall into a childlike squat on the metal floor of the platform, and gaze at my deliberate mortality dumbly. Dizziness arrives, a dull, promising angel.

Somewhere, Edward calls, “Clarissa?”  But his voice is very small now, and it comes from very far away. I had to do this.  I had to.  The alternative is an endless hell of starshine, the eternal agony of distant silver mountains.  The alternative is to grow angrier at my husband and his hubris, every time he returns, for all of time — my horror turning to cruel, mad gloating when he burns, yet again.  What inhuman thing might I become, then, as my soul is affected by the millennia stretching ever before me? I think that I can actually hear the individual drops of blood now falling from my slim wrist, falling from the platform to strike the dry and timeless floor of the cooling desert below me. Can darkness have a temperature?  Can it be hot or cold?  Because the darkness falling over me now is calm and vast and welcome, and so very, very cool.  

Then I am seated at my keyboard again.  I cannot count the minutes I am there.  The part of my mind that was able to do that has finally been eroded. But those minutes must number seven, because my love returns to me again. Violent violet lightning arrives like clockwork.  There are strobes of dark purple – mid-air squares and rectangles of light.  The lightning makes quick, spindly fingers of plum-colored fire, splashing rare, strange shades of electric Tyrian everywhere. “I’m back! Clarissa! I made it!” Now arrives the predictable burning turquoise.  I smell cooking skin. My eyes fall to my left forearm.  It is smooth.  It is unblemished.  It is white alabaster.  It is a narrowing white snowdrift.  It is as white as pearl.  It is as white as porcelain.  It is as white as the stars themselves, which will shine now, fiercely, forever. I start to scream.  

© Eric Robert Nolan 2016

Poetry from Leah Mueller

Leah Mueller is an indie writer and spoken word performer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of three chapbooks and five books. Her most recent book, ‘Misguided Behavior, Tales of Poor Life Choices’ was published in September, 2019 by Czykmate Press. Her new chapbook, ‘Death and Heartbreak’ (Weasel Press) is forthcoming in October, 2019. Leah’s work appears in Blunderbuss, The Spectacle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and other publications. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp humor poetry contest.

Cocktails at Denny’s  

Eastern Oregon: cinderblock motel squats beside Denny’s.

Parking lot overflows with late-model automobiles.  

Attached bar: main social hub for a dusty farming town, vibrant oasis of liquor and conviviality.  

I sprawl outside, drape my arms across the leaf-strewn hot tub, assess my need for alcohol.  

Neon light flickers on and off: cocktails, no cocktails, then cocktails again.  

Emerging from water,

I pat myself dry with a scratchy motel towel. My body reeks of chlorine, its sharp, pungent acid penetrates my nostrils.  

Inside the lounge, I order a beer, remember a different motel bar. The Neon Cactus, located inside a Days Inn near Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Not a succulent in sight, except me. Men propped on barstools, eyeing my body like starving predators.  

One of them enjoyed an afterhours drink with me inside his room,  

then lamented, “We’ll never see each other again,” as I wandered down the hallway

towards my own bed,  

leaving him alone with his fantasies. I laughed and said, “Yeah. Too bad. That’s how it works.”  

So foolish, so lucky. Tonight, I am neither.

Eight years wear on my shoulders like an old sweater: ragged but comfortable.

I tell the bartender, “No, I don’t need another,” pay the check, leave him a small tip.

Long drive in the morning: my rented mattress sprawls before me  

with its worn comforter and promise of oblivion.

This night will be over before I know it, and no one will remember anything.

Aquatic Pipe Dream  

Faith has claws and scales, skitters across the bottom  

of oceans, emerges from depths while the  

tide recedes, sinks back when the moon changes signs.  

Faith walks along the shoreline, points to spots no one else can see:  

the disappearing horizon, last flash of light at sunset.  

In the distance, curve of earth, and beyond, sailboats  

in search of dry land, finding nothing but wave after wave.

Touch of Evil  

“Read my cards,” he said, stumbling drunk into the parlor, but the cynical fortune teller regarded him with uncharacteristic pity.  

She lifted her eyes from the pile of bank receipts, shook her head at the spectacle.  

Perhaps she remembered the man he’d once been, before the candy bars, the alcohol, and the henchmen.  

He demanded to know his future, but she refused to supply details.   She said, “You haven’t got any. Your future is all used up,”

and suggested a final detour,  

an unscripted exit towards a home he’d never be able to reach. He took the wrong route anyway, died fifteen minutes later.  

Nobody listens to the fortune teller, especially when the news is bad.   Though we ram against fate with sawdust horns, cover our bodies with leaves,

and hope our pursuers will never find us, in the end they always succeed.

Poetry from Christian Garduno

Dedicated to my Uncle David, who passed away 18 OCT 2019.

Saints & Souls

reckless savoir-vivre blank stares in each eye when we split, there’s no severance your fugitive, larcenous love is saturnine & dosed to the nines

She never goes to parties when there’s still light outside a whirling dervish with the torso of a Centaur making out with you is one long riot- sacred + profane you’re a buzz in the hours well before noon

when we’re swimming around in your room you turn of the lights we scale the heights higher than the moon gives me the shakes when you leave so damn soon We had forever & we still rushed it.    

Fried Dreams

close friends become old friends, who are then gone with the wind every time you fall into a new life, you ask- is this a dream again? and every time I reach for you in the night, you’re never here anymore, that’s why I sleep with the light on

every night since you’ve been gone you came and went like a short scene in a dream seems like you were only around for a line or two, now when I look into the mirror for a ghost, I can never seem to find you sleeping in the night with the light so bright

so I never really have to close my eyes, staring at the stars so I never see a sky so dark reaching for your song to get me to the dawn, the only way I keep from falling apart maybe we’ll be born again another century, and I can start chasing you all over again & so, until then, I sleep with my light on + my window open- you know I’ve been down for over a century.    

Time Fell 

Staring at the citrus moon, late in the cyanide afternoon, it’s a dicey, dismal affair constellations stuck in her hair   Harkening back to the time of radio & letters by post some of the best times, I still miss the most   You make me dizzy in the morning, I fall right back into bed, some days, I just unravel, time slows, goes backwards in my head  

And any which way you turn, I know you will be facing home, you went in so golden, came out all stone   Time leaped like eve onto adam, and then split like a Japanese atom, time froze twisted in mid-air and then it fell

OAK

I don’t remember what made me remember you tonight What made me look you up in a fog I’m happy someone is making you laugh in your photographs Fireworks & train-wrecks in faraway cities you know what to do when the time comes   love it when you do it too slow there you go the proof is in the puddle your season is wide open–  

Oh, I remember what made me think of you tonight it was some commercial for the 15-year anniversary edition a movie… (oh my, has it really been that long) Kissing underneath that billboard when that movie was playing in theatres We were laughing off time + we laughed it off for quite a while, too

You was jumping on the bed, I rolled my eyes to high heaven but now I see you were leading the symphony I was just your firefly for a light, anticipating & dissipating– all across your broken mirror night Looks like we’re both been off to the races since then- your son looks just like you, lucky kid I love it when from time to time you cross my mind just like that first night under the billboard and I get to remember meeting you, that’s my most favorite part    

Zeven

All my life, I think I was born to follow you 1,000 years on your trail, never a day goes by I’m chasing you, it never fails 1,000 summers, I’m after you-

  And if I have to live another 100 lives, I don’t mind forsaking heaven, crossing paths in burned out Zeven, I’m the one who takes that dare, One hundred winters, I don’t care- I am after your shadow, just to sit next to you on that train- & never say a word-  

And even after I become a ghost, I’ll be on the lookout for you, from coast to coast    

Short story from Wayne Burke

Theater

MURPHY put on his gray checkered suit, a high school graduation present from his grandmother, over a pink shirt. He left the top two shirt buttons undone. The unbuttoned style of cool guys and snappy dressers, he thought; and he knew that he should be snappily dressed to attend the theater. He had a hard time with that word: “theater.” Was it “thee-a-trr,” or “thee-ate-er?” He slipped his feet into his platform heeled shoes and his height shot up three inches. In the mirror above the bedroom bureau he looked, he told himself, worldly, even sophisticated-like—like a guy who hung around theaters, maybe—who maybe even wrote a few plays himself.

     His heels knocked on the hallway tile floor. The living room, at the end of the hall, was the largest of the clean three room apartment. His brother Al, asleep on the living room couch, snored.

     He was in luck, Murphy told himself.

     His grandmother sat in a rocking chair before the color television; she turned her head as he approached. “Well!” she exclaimed,”what are you all dolled-up for?” Her ivory dentures showed in a smile. Little squares of light, from the television, reflected off the lenses of her glasses.

     “I am not ‘dolled-up’,” Murphy insisted, disliking, for whatever reason, the term.

     “Where are you off to?” the snow-white haired old lady asked.

     “I am going out.”

     “Out where?”

     “Just OUT.”

     He did not want his grandmother, or anyone else, to know that he was going to the theater, because…If she told someone and that someone told someone and his, Murphy’s, friends, found out he went to the theater? Would they think he was…weird, maybe? (Or maybe they would think no such thing. Maybe have no thoughts on the matter. In any case—and just in case—he did not want his theater-going publicly known.) He glanced at the TV. An actor whose face he recognized—being interviewed by Merv Griffin. The actor’s incandescent white-toothed smile plastered on his face.

     “Where are the car keys?” Murphy asked, bending over the white hair and speaking low.

     His brother stirred, turned onto his side and began to saw another log.

     “What?” the old lady fiddled with her hearing aid. The aid squeaked. Squawked. She peered up at him. “What?” she said, evenly.

     “Where are the car keys?” Murphy said, enunciating clearly.

     The old lady shook her head, wrinkles around her mouth compressed. “The Crosby’s?” she asked. “They are not on until eight.”

     Murphy frowned. “The keys!” he said, making a turning motion with his hand. “Car keys!”

     The old lady’s smile faded. “For what?” she asked.

     “To drive the car,” Murphy said, “what do you think ‘for what’?”

     “How long do you need it for?” the old lady asked querulously. “Your brother needs the car to go to work later on, you know.”

     Murphy side-glanced Al, sleeping. “Yea, I know. Not long.”

     The old lady dug a wad of Kleenex, a chain of rosary beads, and the car keys from an apron pocket. “I hope I do not get in Dutch for this,” she said, handing over the keys.

     Murphy pulled the car to the curb in front of the Beckwith residence on Friend Street. The house a small peak-roofed two story affair, like all the other houses lining the street.

     He hit the car horn with the heel of his hand. He would not go to the door, he decided; too risky. Might meet Mr. and Mrs. Beckwith and get the third degree. He saw a shade move in a window. Good, he thought; the message of his coming would get to her, or maybe it was her at the window…He looked down at his suit, wondering if he had worn the right clothes. Was he overdressed? He wondered what would the people at the theater think of him? Maybe they would recognize him as some kind of writer and a good guy to know—an up and coming…whatever: prospect, like a good minor league ballplayer headed to the majors. He looked into the side mirror: most of his pimples had dried, he noted happily: the recent sunshine had done his face good.

     “Who is that in the green car outside?” Mrs. Beckwith, standing at the living room window, asked. She scrutinized her daughter.

     “Billy Murphy,” Lucy Beckwith said. She glanced into the oval mirror hung on the wall. Spread the bangs of her short bobbed hairdo.

     “Oh? The Murphy who went to school with your brother?” Mrs. Beckwith squinted through the curtain.

     Lucy rearranged her bangs. “Yes, mother—I told you he was taking me out.”

     “You did?” Mrs. Beckwith frowned. “Doesn’t he know enough to come to the door?”

     Lucy wet two fingers and smoothed her bangs onto her forehead. “No,” she said, “he does not know anything.”

     Should he beep again, Murphy wondered. Would it be considered rude if he did? Would it be some sort of unforgivable social faux pas? And was ‘faux pas’ one word or two; and how was it spelled? “Shit,” he muttered, maybe he should forget the whole thing. Drive off, he told himself. It was her asked him to go. HER idea not his. And now to make him wait…Or was she waiting for him to come to the door? He looked to the house. She would be waiting a long time, he told himself. A goddamn long–

     The front door of the house swung open. Murphy watched Lucy step from the door. She wore a knee-length sleeveless dress that looked, to Murphy, like a smock that patients in hospitals wear. A lace thing, like a doily, around the neckline. The doily made her head look like it was on a platter.

     “Hi,” she said, falling onto the front seat.

     “Hi.”

     Murphy put the car in gear and drove, steering one-handed, other arm hung out the window and against the car door. Warm air of the twilit summer night tickled his face. “So, what is this play about?” he asked.

     “It is called ‘The Locker Room’. About a sports team in England that plays one of those games they play. One of those games with a ball.”

     “Rugby? Soccer?”

     “Rugby, I think,” she said tonelessly. She looked out the window at a section of marshy swampland, cattails sticking up out the water. Who gives a shit, she thought, what kind of game?

     A sports play, Murphy thought happily—maybe something like the play he had watched on television: ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight.’ Maybe this locker room play would give him an idea, he thought, for a play he would write, and then, who knows, get the theater to do it…Maybe he would meet someone at the theater, he thought, who had some pull, somebody who could give him the scoop on the theater scene. He wondered what name he should put on the play (after he wrote it)? Billy W. Murphy? William W. Murphy? W. W. Murphy?

     “You ever see ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight?” he asked.

     “No,” she said disinterestedly. “What is that?”

     “It is a sports play. I saw it on TV. Anthony Quinn played the role of this boxer, a guy named ‘Mountain’ who wins all his fights and starts to think he is a great fighter but really all the fights are fixed…It was based on a true story—the life of Primo Carnera, a heavyweight who fought in, um, the nineteen twenties…” He side-glanced Lucy. A red pimple on her shoulder the side of a dime. Why didn’t she wear a dress with sleeves, he thought—or put a band-aid on the splotch? He reached for the radio dial: the rich voice of Frank Sinatra came in loud and clear: “Strangers in the night, exchanging glances…”

     A flock of well-dressed and gaily chattering, so it seemed to Murphy, people, stood on the white marble steps below four fat Doric style columns fronting the theater. The people bathed in the soft blue and purple pastel twilight. The theater building between two of the many ivy and vine covered prettified college buildings lining the broad street.

     Murphy stood alone, nervously unbuttoning and re-buttoning his suit coat. In no way, he had quickly realized, was he overdressed. A group of women on steps above him talked loudly and without apparent self-consciousness, one or the other intermittently screeching with laughter. Fancy looking dames, some ancient, who wore enough jewelry to sink a canoe…No one gave, or had given him, so much as a glance, he noted; like he was invisible or something. He watched a raven-haired girl walk past on the arm of a tall slim guy with a pony-tail. He stared at the set of melons clearly outlined beneath the girl’s silkily sheer dress. His breath caught in his throat. It was almost like she had nothing on! He cautioned himself not to stare. It was bad manners, plus, if anyone saw him staring then that anyone might not speak to him, thinking he, Murphy, was some kind of dope or even crude bastard not worth talking to…Still, the girl was really something! The guy she was with looked like a perfumed mope who probably had his hair cut at a beauty parlor.

     Murphy checked the time by his watch, like a man in a hurry and with important things to do. He imagined someone coming up to him and asking how he was doing and he telling that someone—and he hoped it was her with the melons—that he was a writer and was thinking of doing a play, maybe have it shown at the theater if they, the theater people (whomever they were) liked it. Work in a reference to ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ so he would not seem like a bullshitter throwing the crap around but like someone who knew his stuff. He turned and smiled at a couple. The woman had sculpted hair and dark sunglasses, like, maybe, Murphy thought, she was some actress who did not want to be recognized and have people bug her for an autograph. The man had a hairdo also (maybe he went to the same beauty parlor as the mopey guy) and was dressed completely in black, head to toe, with leather shoes that Murphy bet cost a hell of lot more than a few bucks. The guy’s lips tightened in approximation of a smile. The woman did not move a muscle. Maybe she really was Gina Lolla-fucking-bridgida, Murphy thought. A guy behind the couple—thin straight-arrow guy with Marine Corp boot camp hair-cut, winked at Murphy. Murphy stared, caught off guard. The guy’s lips spread in an unhealthy-looking smile. The guy did not look like any Marine Murphy had ever met. He quickly turned his gaze. Jesus! He studied the outline of a weeping willow tree on the theater lawn. He wondered if the fruit would try something. He pictured himself slamming a haymaker into the guy’s fruit-face. He turned to his right to face a guy with a tanned face the color of a raisin; around the guy’s neck a handkerchief, tied, and on his face glasses with thick black rims. Hair slicked-back over his skull, like he, the guy, had just come out of the shower. “Hey!” Murphy said exuberantly, “how you doin’?” The guy responded—after about three minutes—with a yawn. He ignored the hand Murphy had offered. Murphy waited for the guy to ask how he, Murphy, was doing, but the guy turned and slipped into the crowd. Murphy saw Lucy returning with the tickets. Compared to the raven-haired girl, and a few others Murphy had scooped-out, Lucy looked like a dog. He felt a little sorry for her, but she seemed oblivious to any difference between she and the others. He wondered how she had come to the decision to wear a goddamn hospital smock. The pimple on her shoulder looked big as a tomato.

     “You want to go in?”

     “Okay.”

     The theater seats were soft and comfortable, plush, like the place, ritzy; like the inside of a high-priced casket, Murphy told himself. Most of those around him seemed, to him, to be engaged in animated conversation. He wished that he too could have an animated conversation. He turned to a woman in the row behind but she looked right through him, as if he were glass. Half a dozen rows back say the guy with the raisin-face. Murphy waved but the guy did not respond. A stiff, Murphy thought, who probably drank formaldehyde before coming to the theater…Maybe he should have drunk some too, he thought. His theater experience was turning out a lot different than he had thought it would.

     The place filled quickly. Looking around, Murphy realized that there were a lot of women—a ton of them, compared to the number of men. He wondered why. The overhead lights suddenly blinked on and off and the crowd hushed. The lights went off as the curtain rose.

     A bare locker room, Spartan. Tall gray metal lockers and a bench parallel the lockers. Roar of crowd noise off-stage. Raucous noise of a vast crowd. From stage right the rugby players entered: disheveled, dirty, wounded, in states of exhaustion. About a dozen players. They threw themselves down on the bench and onto the floor. Behind the players, a stout older man, wearing a sweat suit, pork pie cap, and whistle hung around his neck.

     A realistic type play, Murphy thought happily. He hoped there would be at least one girl in it. Maybe one of the players has a girlfriend who will appear, he thought (but what would a girl be doing in a locker room?). He listened to the coach, the older man, speak with a thick English accent.

     Coach: (stage front)   You’ve got to remember me laddies

                                             When times is tough

                                             You got to be rough

                                             When you are getting beat under

                                              Don’t go asunder! Rise!

                                              Get wise!

                                              Give ‘em the elbow and hip me lads!

                                              Kick! Get slick, trip the

                                              Bloody barstards…

                                              Knee ‘em in the jewels

                                              Frig the friggin’ rules

                                              There is nothing wrong with cheating lads

                                              So long’s you don’t get caught!

                                               Be sly, be wily; be fearless!

                                               Remember Nelson on the quarter deck

                                               Or the 400 in the valley–

                                               Take off the diapers, boys!

                                               Remember the Army at Wipers!

                                               Gordon at Khartoum!

                                                Kitchener on the Nile!

                                                The RAF above the channel

                                                 And bloody limees in Rangoon!

(coach punching his fist into an open hand)

                                                   Think of D-Day lads

                                                    And the Royal Marines

                                                    Coming ashore on the bloody beach

                                                     Dodging bullets, throwing bloody

                                                     Bombs, blowing bloody Jerries

                                                     To ‘ell and gone!

                                                      Scalin’ the cliffs–

                                                      The tanks moving forward

                                                      Bloody fighters overhead…

(tall well-built blonde player, bare torso, leaps to his feet; sings:)

                                                       Gordon at Khartoum!

                                                         Kitchener on the Nile!

                                                         The RAF, above the channel

(chorus of other players)

                                                          Bloody limees in Rangoon!

(2nd player, dark-haired, naked but for shorts)

                                                           Never mind Calcutta

                                                           And frig’ the Cameroons

                                                           We’re the boys who won’t be beaten

(chorus)

                                                            Bloody limees in Rangoon!

(3rd player, fair-skinned, light hair)

                                                            Bugger all of Blighty

                                                             From Peterlee to Portsmouth

                                                             And Southend-on-the-Sea

                                                              We’re the lads that can’t be beaten

                                                              Saxons proud and free!

                                                               Bugger Slim in Burma

                                                               And Wolfe out in Quebec

                                                               Bugger old Lord Nelson

                                                               On the bloody quarterdeck!

                                                               Bugger London and Pretoria

                                                               And all the chaps between

                                                               Bugger the Raj in New Delhi

                                                               And the guns at El Alamein!

     Murphy blinked and bolted upright. Two of the players wearing only jockstraps, their bare asses, turned to the audience, shining like full-moons. They were quickly joined by the others, all in jockstraps.

(players fling arms over each other’s shoulders and begin a high-kicking chorus line)

                                                                     We’re the boys who can’t be beaten

                                                                      The bloody limees in Rangoon

                                                                       The RAF above the channel

                                                                      And Gordon in Khartoum!

(players marching in place now: 2nd player out front)

     Murphy stared, unbelievingly. The 2nd player out in front had taken his jock off. His dick flip-flopped against his thighs as he walked. Murphy side-glanced Lucy; she was sunk in her seat, her coal-black eyes glowing. Numbers 1 and 3 players joined the blonde guy, all prancing around with their dicks hanging-out. Murphy looked about the theater. What were all the women looking at, he wondered: the play or the dicks? He sunk down in his seat. Deep but not deep enough…

                                                      Monty’s in the desert–

                                                      Winnie never quits!

                                                      We’re the boys who can’t be beaten–

                                                      Douglas Haig is a piece of shit!

                                                       Gordon at Khartoum

                                                       Kitchener on the Nile

                                                       The RAF above the channel

                                                        And (some audience members joined in)

                                                         Bloody limees in Rangoon!

(Coach, loud-calling)

                                                            Over the top me boys!

                                                             Tally ho and to the hunt!

                                                             We’re off to Flanders Field

                                                             And to the bloody front!

                                                              Never mind the Maxim

                                                             Put mustard gas on ham

                                                              And use the bloody bayonet

                                                              On every bloody man!

(players doing a shuffling side-wards strut—dicks flopping)

                                                               Rhodes killed off the Matebele

                                                                Jamison attacked the Boers

                                                                Together they stold the gold and diamonds

                                                                 To support the Brittish whores!

                                                                 Cook is in Guiana

                                                                 Gandi’s in the clink

                                                                  The Union Jack is rising

                                                                   Swim lads or we’ll bloody well sink!

(chorus of marchers:)

                                                                   Bloody well sink!

                                                                    Bloody well sink!

 (coach, continues)

                                                                    Remember Dunkirk me lads

                                                                    Remember Singapore

                                                                    Hong Kong and Malaya!

                                                                    The REPULSE and PRINCE OF WALES

                                                                     Did not sail for nothing my boys

                                                                     Nor did old Blighty

                                                                     Catch the blitz

                                                                     For the fun of it!

                                                                     The V-2 could not put us under

                                                                      You know the reason why?

                                                                      Remember the bridge over the River Kwai?

                                                                      Remember Bomber Harris?

                                                                      The goose-steppers did not scare us…

     The voices of the actors became a distant babble in Murphy’s ears. He told himself to get up and go, leave, walk-out! He glanced back, up the aisle. A long walk to the EXIT sign. Everyone would stare at him were he to walk; maybe even the actors would see him leave, and their feelings would be hurt…He did not have the guts. He squirmed in the suddenly uncomfortable seat as the play went on. He thought of all the woman in the joint: come to see the strip-show, only they, the women, would probably call it “art” (and call a strip-show “smut”).

     At the end of the act he stood and walked out to the lobby. He sat in a plush chair and   chit-chatted with the ticket-taker, a middle-aged man who regarded Murphy with slight amusement. Murphy did not tell the guy that he, Murphy, was a writer or that he was interested in producing a play.

     “Nah, I am kind of tired,” Murphy said, rubbing a hand over his face. “Long day, and I have to get up early tomorrow.” He glanced to a roadside FRIENDLY’S restaurant, the place luminous, like a full moon in a haze. He punched the accelerator and the Chevy shot past three cars on a staightaway.

     “Oh, come on!” Lucy whined. “I do not want to go home now.”

      “I can’t do it,” he said, coldly.

      “We could stop for just a half-hour,” she suggested.

      “Nah…” Who gives a fuck what you want, Murphy thought, expertly wheeling the car around the corner and onto Friend Street. Golden windows of the houses like nightlights guiding Murphy through the dark.

       “You’re no fun,” Lucy said sullenly, pouting.

       “Well, like I said…”

      Murphy brought the car to an abrupt halt in front of the Beckwith residence. “See you later,” he said icily.

     Lucy stepped from the car and slammed the door shut as if trying to break it, the car or door. She stood and watched the son-of-a-bitch drive away. She hoped he got into an accident on his way home. She turned and trudged toward the house. Scenes from the play ran through her mind: the lithe white bodies of the actors that she had studied in detail while they were on the stage. The bodies moved step for step down the walkway with her. She felt heat between her legs: reaching beneath her dress, she touched the dampness of her underwear. Images of the blonde-haired player, the black-haired, the red-haired…The heat spread from her crotch to her thighs and into her belly. She ran her hands over her small pert breasts: her nipples tingled as if electrified.

     She stopped suddenly before the porch steps, peering into the darkness. A man lay on his stomach; body sprawled over the porch floor before the front door.

     Grimacing, Lucy prodded the inert body with the toe of her loafer. “Dad!” she said, savagely. “Wake up!” She kicked him in the ribs.

     The man groaned, waking. “Wha’” he muttered. “Wha’?” Raising himself onto his elbows, he peered about. Lucy looked to the road: What if, she thought, someone suddenly, at this moment, came to visit? What if one of her friends or a relative decided at this moment to stop by? She watched disgustedly as her father struggled to his knees, then, with hands flat on the floor, straighten his legs. Was one of the neighbors, right now, looking out their window, she wondered. She looked up at the dark windows of the Larson’s house next door. Mr. Beckwith tipped, wedging his head and shoulders against the door, his rear end raised in the air. He clawed his way up the face of the door to a standing position. A thin knotted-up little man, he swayed, doing a wobbly two-step, and fell against Lucy as she tried to squeeze past him. The flagrant smell of booze wafted into her face as her father’s stringently muscled body pressed up against her. He moaned and flung his arms around her shoulders. Lucy hugged him to her. Finding his mouth, she thrust her tongue deep down the old man’s throat.

     The front door swung open as the overhead light illuminated the porch. “What in the world is going on here?”  Mrs. Beckwith demanded, standing in the doorway.

Wayne F. Burke is a poet, fiction writer, and critic. He has published 6 full-length collections of poetry, two works of literary criticism, and has a book of short stories due out 10-20. His most recent poetry collection is DIFLUCAN (BareBack Press, 2019). He lives in Vermont.