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.

Essay from Chimezie Ihekuna (Mr. Ben)

Chimezie Ihekuna

Deception 7 Love is Blind         

Lyrical excerpt was read as “love is blind” Eve, a Hip-pop female star and ex-first lady of the then Ruff Ryder’s, had this time in her hit track “love is Blind,” In some romance-based blockbuster Hollywood movies, this assertion is commonly used by script writers.    

In variable it is a household name in the diary of every Tom, Dick and Harry.    On a second thought, is love really blind?         

In a game where players would have to be blind folded to become winners, does it mean they are blind?  Absolutely not! Rather, they have decided to get with the game to really become eventual winners.  In the same vein, love is a force which is translated as decision, interpreted as the ability to bring about the much-needed virtue, barring all limitations through sacrifice and painstaking effort to achieve an intended cause, even at the expense of the concern reason, nevertheless, wishing to forge ahead with this task.        

Simply, love is a recognition which can be said to be blind but can really see in the darkest of all places but however decides to go blind without necessarily feeling suspicious or insecure.         

The ‘love’ most people claim to have for others is realistically termed ‘lust’ or “infatuation”. From the previous explanation given to love, it can be deduced that love takes time for it to manifest. However, lust or infatuation has taken the place love as regret become what is heard from people who have taken into this misinterpretation lust is temporal while love is permanent love takes time to manifest while lust does not takes time.

Love is all about giving or offering value to concern while lust is a close associate of gratification.  Love is never dependent on material or financial needs but heavily dependent on the value of impact to be offered or made. From these, you can reasonably see reasons most of relationship hit the rocks. 

Lack of proper understanding of the term “love” has no doubt made some people take into the mirage “love is blind, “For any man to marry me, he must be financially capable to win my love”, and so on. These do not explain the real meaning of love. No wonder, people ‘fall in love’ and subsequently engage them self in relationship with different individuals only to ‘fall out of love’.   If you really  want to appreciate the essence of love, why not “walk on it”, that is, “walk in love”?         

Instead of “love is blind”, it is preferable to assert “love is blinding”, it can even see In the darkest of place but decides to be blind for something worth the value to be actualized.  

Essay from Kahlil Crawford

Common sense would tell us we are born free

Unfortunately, that is not always the case (or may not remain so for very long). After getting acclimated to this world, we are later governed – their stipulations outweigh your potential, which determines your net value. You become commodified and forced to sell your gifts to the highest bidder for the remainder of your life. Should you resist, you assume a fate of perpetual hardship and struggle.

Much of my outlook is based upon my observations and experiences as a native and resident of Chicagoland. The Windy City is a political game of opportunity driven by displaced ambition within a setting of scarcity. It generates a sense of desperation lending itself to criminal thinking and acting, plus feelings of fear and resentment. In such a setting, it can be hard to celebrate the achievements of others, when your own success is not guaranteed.

Many escape to warmer and/or wealthier climates to tread the greener grass. Some return home to what is familiar to cut their losses instead…

There is also hope in struggle and that’s when Chicago serves as a bedrock of faith and a springboard of progress. If you can make it in or through Chicago, you can definitely make it anywhere. Either way, if you embrace the City of Big Shoulders, she will carry you. 

Short story from Don McLellan

Don McLellan has worked as a journalist in Canada, South Korea, and Hong Kong. He has been shortlisted (in 2016) and longlisted (in 2018) for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and has published two story collections, In the Quiet After Slaughter (Libros Libertad, a 2009 ReLit Award finalist) and Brunch with the Jackals (Thistledown, 2015).  More at donmclellan.com.

Nomads 1

HE STUMBLES BUG-BITTEN and foot-sore into the blinding glare. He’d been travelling for many years, and he’s eager to get home. A fisherman mending nets offers directions, lowering his voice to add, “There’s trouble up ahead. Move fast, watch your back.”  He walks on, undeterred; trouble, his travels had taught, is the way of the world. For the last leg of the journey he empties his rucksack of all but the essentials. He had nothing when he left home, and he intends to return with the same.      

He sleeps soundly that night on the beach, close to the fire, but he’s roused before dawn by what sounds like a series of explosions. The trouble the fisherman spoke of? No. The pounding of a troubled heart. The next day, back on the road, he meets up with a schoolboy who repeats the fisherman’s warning.  “Follow me,” the boy says. “There’s another way.”

They sink back into the sunless jungle where the heat greedily sucks the oxygen from his lungs. The humidity is ferocious, drenching his clothing. They come upon an open-air market where a blind man and his wife flog household wares, saucepans and scrub brushes, cleaning fluids and insect repellent swinging like decorations from the branches of a jackfruit tree. At the edge of  the clearing, forest dwellers squat naked in the dirt, eating worms.     

“I must get back,” says the boy. “Good luck.”  He’s passed like a baton to five men, their dark faces obscured below wide-brimmed straw hats and evening shadows. Two or three of them are bandaged: hands, feet, a neck. They look to him like the survivors of a terrible struggle. One of them presents him with a straw hat. “It will discourage the mosquitoes. They dislike the oils.” He follows the men as they skip wordlessly along a well-trodden path. A cabal of monkeys follows in the trees, hissing and jeering.      

Where the trail splits they are surprised by a military checkpoint; soldiers rise like apparitions from the darkness. His new companions form a protective ring around him, herding the traveller to the centre as dogs guide wayward sheep. A soldier lifts his torch to better identify them. The traveller is taller than the others and fair, yet after cursory inquiries they are permitted to proceed.      Afterward, at rest, he says to the others, “The soldiers seemed afraid of us.”     

“If we were smaller in number,” he’s told, “we might have been robbed.”

They make the coastal highway in a few hours. He wants to acknowledge their assistance, but his companions seem reticent. At dawn they are collected by a van, a pre-arranged taxi service of some sort. He’s dropped off at an inn, his offer of a contribution declined.      In the morning, filling his water bottle in a stream, a passing cyclist, an old man, dismounts. “Best be careful around here,” he says. “Don’t dally.”     

“I know about the soldiers,” says the traveller. “But I thank you, sir.”      “It’s not the soldiers I speak of,” the old man says. “It’s the lepers.”

2 First thing he did the day after matriculating was catch the tram downtown. The enlistment office closed at six, and he was  keen to help his side win. His father, an uncle, and both grandfathers had helped win theirs. He’d been raised on their stories, stories of victory and valour, of grit and loss. As a boy he’d marched around the yard singing the battle songs, sniping at the enemy along a whittled length of hickory. A glass case in the hallway preserved their dusty commendations.     

When informed he’d failed the physical, he thought he might be sick; it just couldn’t be, not him. He’d lost the baby toe on his right foot working with a stone mason. A metal prosthesis mitigated the limp, but could not disguise it.  “A bloke tipped a load of bricks, sheared it clean off,” he told the army doctor. “But you have to let me fight. I’ll make my country proud.”      “I would if I could,” said the doctor.     

After his mates shipped out he bought a second-hand motorcycle and toured the backcountry, camping in the woods, trying to forget. He followed developments of the conflict in newspapers, idling under open farmhouse windows for the latest radio dispatches. He worried about his friends. In his dreams he saw limp bodies sprawled in open fields, arms and legs snagged in the crook of tree branches. He could summon the inconsolable faces of their mothers.     

He was at a roadside pub seeking directions when the press gang burst in. Patrons scattered, crawling under tables, dropping from windows. He followed those stampeding through a side door into the night. When they stopped to get their bearings he asked the man closest the reason for the raid. “They need bodies,” the man said. “Our side must be losing.”     

He hobbled back to the pub. “Arrest me!” he shouted, raising his arms, and the press gang accommodated, no physical exam necessary. He was soon in uniform and rushed through an abbreviated training. The day he shipped out to  the front was the happiest day of his foolish young life.     

For the first few weeks he didn’t hear a weapon fired, a profound disappointment. His unit was instructed to dig a trench. “The deeper, the better,” said the sergeant. “It’s going to be home.” Opposite, against a wall of coniferous trees, the enemy dug its own.     

And then one brisk morning in October it began for him: war. It was not all like the make-believe skirmishes in the yard, what he’d seen in the newsreels. Real bullets screamed overhead, the earth rumbled. A bloody discharge oozed from his perforated eardrums. He learned to sleep standing up, to shit into helmets vacated by the enemy. One curious soldier poked his head up like a groundhog the very moment he shouldn’t have. When the stretcher bearers passed it sat on his hapless chest, a twisted expression on cold, blue lips.     

Many of his rounds found their targets: husbands and fathers fell to his aim, brothers and sons. When the barrel of his carbine became too hot to hold, he pried another from the hands of the wounded man to his left. “Why are we fighting?” the dying soldier asked him. “What did they ever do to us?”      “What did we ever do to them?” he replied.      

Orders arrived to overrun the enemy’s trench “at any cost.” Artillery rounds pounded both positions at dawn. Heads were tossed like juggling balls into the brittle autumn air, limbs lay splintered in the fields, swollen bodies burst in the sun. “Charge!” the sergeant cried, and ten minutes later, twenty-eight days after his induction, before he could legally drink spirits or vote, he was blown like confetti into thousands of pieces. A kind French whore was the only woman he’d known biblically.       

Both armies claimed victory, but the conflict, when it ended, changed little. No matter, reasoned those paid to do so. The people didn’t need truth; they required cultivation. Patriotism, the motivation to wage war, wanes without the roll of a drum. War calls for rousing anthems, inflated speech, lively parades. There was an insatiable appetite in the land for heroic fictions.      The young soldier’s family wrote service authorities regarding his remains, but they never received a reply. An unofficial source familiar with the campaign said many of the combatants of both sides had fled. The family suspended further inquiry, fearing their lad might be exposed as one of them.     

Years passed; so, too, did the young soldier’s folks. A museum was erected near the battlefield. On the anniversary of the war’s end thousands joined group tours for wreath-laying  ceremonies. A  rousing marching band entertained visitors. A local man, a mute sweeping the area with a metal detector, unearthed a boot deep in the earth; inside the boot was a foot; strapped to the foot was a rusty metal prosthesis.      The man took his findings to a military historian. The historian had a map; the location of the two trenches was marked. “Where did you find the boot?” he asked. The man stabbed the table. “Which way was it headed?” The mute indicated the direction. “Are you certain?” He was.      

The historian reviewed eye witness accounts and scrutinized official reports. He questioned a survivor of the campaign in a care home. The man had lost his mind, but others remembered a young soldier with a limp. It took several years to obtain the necessary verification of some details, and his health was failing, but the historian persevered.     

When he’d verified what had happened that fateful day he tracked down a nephew of the young soldier; he was living at the original family residence. “We know your uncle volunteered to lead the charge,” the historian wrote. “He carried the flag. He was killed by a land mine that detonated a few steps from the enemy position.”     

Days before his own death the historian received word that based on his research, the young soldier had been posthumously awarded a medal of bravery. It’s in the glass case in the hallway.  Alongside it rests the boot. 3 They unloaded their gear at the cabin and hopped back into the car. They needed a few things, and the general store closed early. On the way back they decided to stop at the Lookout Hotel; it was built into a bluff, its windows angled for a favourable view of the harbour. A decade earlier, in a room above the bar, he’d proposed to her.      

In the restaurant off the lobby they slid into a booth that looked out at half a dozen workers framing an extension. Every few minutes one of them would come into the main building to fill a water bottle or use the washroom, and to ogle her. “I haven’t had so much attention since high school,” she said.

     “Whatever happened to the discreet glance?” he mused. “The peek.”     “Don’t take offence,” the hotel manager, overhearing the exchange, said. “There are two hundred permanent residents on the island. Only seven are women.”     

The construction crew took a break, squeezing around a table nearby. When she stood to leave, the tease of sharp heels on a tiled floor, six hard-hatted heads swivelled in unison. As they crossed the parking lot she imagined the excited cocks like eels squirming inside their overalls.     

He had pitched the getaway to her as one last effort to make the marriage work. A return to the island where they had committed to each other. The kids were turned over to grandparents.      “We’ve invested too much not to try,” he’d said.      “Where have I heard that before?”     

On the ferry they’d kept the conversation light; after disembarking, they hardly spoke at all. It reminded him of a first date: all nerves, moist palms, a dry mouth. He believed they had allowed their careers to take over their lives. They no longer talked of joy and happiness, but about how much they earned, the toys and trinkets accumulated, their exalted job titles. “We have become,” he lamented, “the people we once mocked.”     

As students they had spotted the cabin from the beach and vowed to stay there someday; it was nestled beneath towering old growth, the branches flapping like hair taking the wind.  Rollers detonated on the rocks below the cliff with a soothing certainty, each wave leaving something in its wake, each return stealing away with something. When the undertow was strong, with someone.     

Once the wine began to flow, the arguments followed; it’s the way it  was with them. Their union had survived a decade; there was no shortage of disappointment; they could have squabbled forever. Afterward, their usual method of resolution, they screwed mightily. “We should fight more often,” he said, and she would have laughed once.     

After he’d dozed off she rose and boiled water for tea. The wind howled, tree branches pawed the window. She heard it just as she was settling in: a chorus of voices, men’s voices, a rising, melodic entreaty.     

On their second night at the cabin they consumed more wine and resumed the power struggle the marriage had become. He was thankful she never learned of his fling with a new hire. When he broke it off the woman had threatened to inform their employer, but nothing came of it.     

She turned in early. He retreated to a hammock on the porch and finished his drink. When he went back inside, she was sitting up. “I wasn’t going to say anything,” she said, tossing him her phone. “Your little tramp sent these a few days ago.”     

He couldn’t remember posing for the photos, and he was too wasted to mount a defence. The woman had come on to him at an office party, and he went along for the ride. There had been others; he couldn’t remember most of their names, and now he can’t endure her despondency. “I need a shower.” He wanted to scrub the past, to rid himself of  guilt, but she seemed far away. “I hear something outside,” she said.     

He circled the cabin and walked to the edge of the cliff. The wind blew angrily, the sea roiled. He made sure the windows were locked, and pushed the sofa up under the doorknob. While he was showering, she heard it again. The thrashing branches, the pleading. When he came out of the shower, he told police, the sofa had been shoved aside. The cabin door was ajar. 4 The farmhouse sat at the end of a steep incline, a row of swaying poplars shielding it from the road. There was a battered truck up on blocks in the yard, and no lights shone inside despite the hour. That far out, a spread this size, most people have a dog, yet none responded to his approach. He made his way around back to the barn, to the hayloft, sinking easily into a sleep just as the rain began.     

In the morning he noticed the rear entrance of the house had been left open. The place had been looted, the dank air reeked of abandonment, every room in darkness. He felt his way through the home, arms extended like a man new to blindness. When he turned to leave, he bumped into something, or something bumped into him. He lit a match: a boot, a body swinging from the rafters.     

In town, at the Maple Tree Cafe, he falls into conversation with fellow-transients. Two are heading east, and two, like him, west. They had just been released from the city jail, a two-day sentence for boarding a freight. “The train is the only way out of town,” says Luke, an Indian from up north. “We’ve all tried hitching out, but most of the cars are full. We’re stranded.” A kid from Alberta tells him of the hostel where they’ve been staying.

     “The doors open at five. You’re not supposed to stay more than a few days, but the guy who runs the place is a good shit. He was one of us once.”      The train heading west leaves the station at midnight. The eastbounder comes through two hours later. A few evenings a week, no one knows which, just beyond the town limits and after the freeloaders have jumped aboard, the train makes a sudden, unscheduled stop. The railway’s security trainees surround the boxcars, arresting whomever they find. A boy in the top bunk says, “I heard the railway recruits are given points for the number of bodies they bring in. Those with the most arrests are given their choice of job placements when the training is over.”     

“So that’s why those guys are so keen,” says Eric, from Montreal. “A company incentive plan.”     

Every morning they leave the hostel early and hike to the highway, spacing themselves out fifty metres apart. Most days no one is offered a lift, and they return  to the hostel. The mood in the country is changing. There is a despair in the world; people are wary of each other. Some days a lady from a local church distributes ice water and fruit, and some days she doesn’t.      Afternoons they shuffle aimlessly along the town’s empty streets, waiting for the hostel to open. They nap on the grass in the town square. There’s a chill in the air; winter is nigh. Those with coin nurse a coffee at the Maple Tree Café. The waitress, who earns only tips, frowns when she sees them coming. A shopkeeper sweeping his sidewalk curses as they pass.      

Friendships form and expire quickly amongst the travellers. He hears for the first time about the wolves who rule the prairie and the hitchhiker who was stranded so long he married the police chief’s daughter. Versions of the tale are told coast-to-coast. “I heard he was elected mayor,” someone says.

     Steve, a maternal homosexual, manages the hostel. He sees to it there is a jar of Dutch rolling tobacco in the sitting room, one handful per day per guest. Chow is usually mac and cheese with bread and a boxed juice or something out of a can. Tonight Steve ladles out wieners and beans. The beverage is a watery fruit juice. A stack of bread crusts circulates. “One slice each, my darlings. Go easy on the margarine.”     

A guy named Dalton checks in.  “Anyone up for c-c-catching a f-f-freight?” he says. “I know a w-w-way to f-f-fool the b-b-bulls.”          “The city jail isn’t any fun,” Luke replies, explaining the lack of enthusiasm. “The mattresses stink, and the food is crap.”      “They’re always sh-sh-short of fruit p-p-pickers out west. M-M-Most of the orchard managers kn-kn-know me. I might be able to g-g-get some of you on.”              

When the lights are out, half a dozen hostellers, Luke and Eric among them, grab their gear and follow Dalton. At the last minute, he decides to join them. They’re sequestered behind a dusty blackberry bush when the westbound leaves the yard. Just as it picks up speed, sparks flare and the train abruptly stops. Trainees charge the boxcars, the dogs gagging on their leashes. The freeloaders are strung together with plastic bracelets and hauled away.      The hostellers file out of the darkness and hoist themselves into an open car. They close the door, stretch out on their bedrolls. “W-W-We should arrive in the n-n-next town about s-s-sun-up. I-I-I know where we can get a g-g-good breakfast.”     

Just as they’re about to drift off, the door slides open. Lanterns sway in the dark, hounds bare their fangs. “Gotcha,” Dalton says, jumping to his feet, flashing a badge. “Nice try, fellas.”      

From the darkness in the rear of the boxcar, one of the transients replies: “C-c-cocks-s-sucker.”                                           5

All the woodcutters really know about him is his name, Arnie – Arnie the arsehole, they’d whisper behind his back – and that he was from one of the snow countries. On payday he’d push his way to the front of the line and smash the face of anyone who objected. After the evening meal he confiscates the desserts of the weakest. Arnie splits twice the volume of wood as his closest competitor, so the bosses look the other way. A rumour circulates that he’d killed a man for no reason at all.     

“He’ll get his,” the kid hears it said around camp. “Guys like him always do.” But he’s a new hire, just passing through, so he doesn’t mention he’d known plenty like Arnie, and most of them are still out there, smashing faces.        When the chainsaws start breaking down and axe handles begin to snap, the boss orderes new supplies, but the shipment is delayed, and the woodcutters are furloughed until it arrives. Some of the cutters decide to head for town;  the kid is invited to join them. They like the stories he tells of his travels. “Don’t tell Arnie.”     

At sunrise six of them rendezvous behind the bunkhouse. Their destination is a four-hour trek. They are almost off the mountain when footsteps are heard behind them. They crouch in the tall grass, machetes unsheathed, as bandits work the hills.      “It’s just me.”     

They arrive at midday, renting a room in a flophouse. The port is crowded with freighters waiting to unload; the streets bustle with idle sailors, with grifters and thieves and whores. Everyone but Arnie takes a nap. He wants to begin partying right away. “I’ll catch up later.”     

It can be dangerous, a town like that: moneybelts stuffed with cash, all that booze, men famished for love. The kid sticks close to his workmates. They’d cruise one side of the street, sip their drinks slowly, hungrily studying the women slouching against a wall like unappreciated oil paintings. A few of the fellas dance a number or two before disappearing upstairs. “Every man has his urges,” Len, the oldest of the woodcutters, says, “They can’t be denied.”         

They are waiting for the others to finish up when a party of rowdy merchant seamen descends on the adjacent table. They look like pirates with their tattoos and gold earrings, with their chains and ivory-handled knives poking out of their boots. One of them chats with old Len in another language, and soon they are encouraged to join the two tables. “We have to leave,” Len whispers. Why?” he asks. “They’re asking a lot of questions,” Len says. “Like what?” said the kid. “Like how much for the boy.”     

He’d planned to abstain, to hang on to his money, as he would resume his wandering soon, but the drink goes to his head and a woman in a dance hall, a large-boned Mandingo, catches his eye. Before a man could finish a cigarette his seed is dribbling down her thigh.         

At dawn the woodcutters regroup for the walk back to the flophouse. They take what they believe is a shortcut but find themselves at a dead end. When they seek an exit the seamen who had been following them block their path. “Hand him over,” says one. Their blades glint in the moonlight. 

As the woodcutters consider their options, a figure appears at the head of the alley, a menacing silhouette offset by the incoming dawn. “Who’d like to die first?”  The seamen flee like schoolgirls.      

The woodcutters stagger back to the flophouse in groups of two and three. The first to arrive drink a toast to their guardian angel. They want to present him with a gift, a tradition in that part of the world, but they have nothing suitable – nothing until the door swings open, and in walks old Len. The kid is right behind him.        

Poetry from Mahbub

Mahbub




Honeycomb  

Showed me the honeycomb to throw at

I threw the stones two or three times

As soon as the bees became very angry

Before that they were very silent living humble

They started flying around me biting so seriously

Rushed behind crying and crying

Wherever I go they follow and follow

I laid flat on the ground screaming

From that time I walk very careful beside them

And never try to disturb any bee.      

I Am The Reed  

I am the reed of the forests

Not to be seen by others

Always soaked in water

Covered in the leaves of the large trees

Or burn in the sun under the salty sea

Some make whistles by it

Some use as their roofs

Some make their flute

Follow the principles

I am the reed of a forest

Spend the whole life fully

Flowing in shade and light.

   

Life is a Cycle  

Life is a cycle

Sometimes run

Sometimes feel tired

Sometimes stay and halt

Sometimes fall down on the ground or water

Sometimes broken

Sometimes stumbles on the speed breaker

Life is a cycle roll on the ground or sky

Face many incidents and accidents

Live and die Stand and lie

Life is a cycle

On the way to run

Act as a whole.

The Cascade You Flow On  

My country is Bangladesh

The cascade flowing from the speech

The glory enchants the air

Here lies a hidden beauty

Lost in puddle deep despair

Infringe the promise you lay bare

The cascade flowing from the speech

The grass roots are the victims

The common toppled down

Amazed in circus falter and alter

Deprived and falsified

O golden Bangla, we achieved you

In exchange of blood equal to the ocean

We lost our near and dear ones

We cried a lot suffered a lot

Obtained you through many rapes and deaths

Fired and tortured

Till the freedom we fought for

Many years have passed

What we have what we want

Time has come to overcome

The lamentation and frustration

The cascade you flow on

Spark the world

We are waiting for the real golden Bangla.    

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh 09/07/2018      

Poetry from Olaseni Kehinde Precious

ABOUT THE WRITER

Olaseni Kehinde Precious was born in Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria. She writes from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. She believes the world is too complex for the pen to remain idle and influence people with her creative works.

WORK TITLE: “To my fellow Nigerians”

To our future leaders,

Who starve their eyes of sleep, striving repaciously for bread on the laptop screen till the day bleed to nightfall

Those Whose hearts have become a jungle, revenging for the sufferings of our forefathers they say

They pluck beautiful apples planted by unknown farmers in another man’s land

Help me tell them, they are writing a tragic story for our land’s tomorrow.

To our future leaders,

With dark hearts and glowing skins

Whose in between their legs have become abode of evil men

Men in the high tables do not build a space for corporate wear they say

Help me tell them, to stop campaigning for the ruin of our noble land.

To our fathers,

Whose hearts are darker than darkness

They take  silver from their brother’s pocket and deposit stone; they carpeted their saliva with a deceiving tongue

Help me tell them that their grey hair glitters the danger of our land.

To our mothers,

Who flood nairas tactically from our fathers pocket

They empty the pot with their lying tongue; saying men on the high tables wine and dine with looted bread.

Help me tell them, they sit together with those men of ruthless practices.

WRITTEN BY: Olaseni Kehinde Precious

Essay from Abigail George

“Alone in the dark, inherited creativity, interpreting bipolar mental
illness, suicidal thoughts, and attempts, the cure for loneliness, the
Sylvia Plath Effect, and the South African poet Abigail George”

I was 16 when I first attempted to take my own life. I was seeing a
psychiatrist (he of the Einsteinian-hair, he had studied at a
university in Vienna, his son went to the same high school my brother
went to, the highly-prestigious Grey High School for Boys) at the time
who was convinced that Risperdal could help me, elevate my mood. I was
depressed, very, very depressed. I drank some red wine, and took some
pills, and slept it off. There have been other attempts.

Anti-depressants, counselling, psychiatrists, a coma, psychosis,
hallucinations (some auditory), but there also have been periods of
intense creativity. The psychotropic medication seems to have not
impacted my imagination, only my dopamine and serotonin levels. I felt
down a lot in high school. I had no one to eat lunch with. One friend.
Every year I had one friend. One black friend. I got tired of being
tired (they call it chronic fatigue syndrome). Sometimes I thought I
was just pretending. That was why I was attracted to acting in the
first place.

I didn’t have to be me anymore. I still think at 40 what people think
of me, I’m still dying for my mother’s approval. There were
crushing-and-numbing lows that felt like a succession of deaths,
clinical depression, insomnia (I found it very difficult to fall
asleep, would toss and turn the entire night listening to my parents
fight behind their closed bedroom door, I read into the early hours of
the morning with a torch under the covers). I’m fragile. I was abused
mentally, verbally, physically by my mother for most of my childhood.
Later she isolated me from my so-called friends, from so-called
family, and then rejected me because of the texture of my
kinky-peppercorn hair. In her words I was an “wretchedly-ugly
mistake”, who was “nothing special to look at”, “an intellectual like
your father”, “take your smarties yet”. According to my mother, for
years, I did not have a mental illness (see bipolar mood disorder), I
was demon-possessed and needed prayer.

High school was difficult for me. I was bullied, and I was a bully. I
was an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, a high achiever
academically but after the first two years of high school my grades
started to slip). You would think that this would have been a warning
sign for either my mother, or my manic-depressive father, who was also
an over-achiever as I was. So, I felt pain every day, no one was
pulling me through this pain, I hardly could get out of bed in the
morning, there were no romantic entanglements with boys my own age
(which meant no heavy petting, French-kissing, making out, distracted
by sex, boyfriends, or popularity), no girlfriends who came to the
house, no experimenting with the smoking of cigarettes. I decided I as
an atheist, although I still went to church with my parents, and my
siblings, my younger brother, and sister. I can’t put all my happy
memories, and my childhood, and my elegant and narcissistic mother in
a time capsule. I have the same nose like my mother.

My mother thought the obvious, it was drugs. I was smoking marijuana.
It was my peer-group. I was hanging out with the wrong friends. She
blamed anything, everything, everyone, family, estranged family,
cousins, except herself. I take tranquilisers at night to sleep, fall
asleep watching television. Then there are my sleeping pills, my
father’s sleeping pills, my aunt’s sleeping pills. Then there’s Pax,
Lithium, Zolnox, Arizofy, Puricos for the gout, Puresis, the water
tablet, for my chronic kidney disease. It seems that all I’ve seem to
do for most of my life is take pills to make me happy, scale the
seawalls of the depression, but it is seeming, writing keeps finding
me, and I keep finding writing. Books, plays, novellas, poetry,
essays, and blog posts. I was a teenage runaway. Sometimes I’m
stressed out. I know how to deal with that kind of currency now. I’m
still insecure. I’m like the most vulnerable person I know. I can’t
turn back time.

I ran away to Johannesburg, and then to Swaziland, and wanted to go to
the London Film School when I was 16. I’m designer playwright, keen
diarist, hooked on becoming a memoirist, and inspiring ideas when I’m
found hibernating in my room, lying in the foetal position on my bed
listening to music blaring from my radio, and yes, I’m still running,
carrying the cross. I’m only happy though when I’m a failure. I’m only
unhappy when I’m adding another accomplishment, onto an already full
list of accomplishments. Acting my heart out on the stage, drama
rehearsals at the Opera House, lead role in the house play, Quiz,
editor of the school newspaper, swimming laps in the local Gelvandale
Olympic-sized swimming pool etcetera, etcetera. The everlasting list
goes on, and never-ending on. I make money out of writing now.

I’ve lived with the naming, the shame-and-blame for all of my life.
Whose fault was it that I was abused, or that I was molested as an
adolescent, or that I was too trustworthy of men in positions of
power, and thought that every female that I met was my friend. Last
year, I baked a cake for my birthday. It was the most beautiful cake
in the world. I decorated it with mini-meringues and African violets,
but nobody touched it, put it past their lips. And so, my 39th
birthday collapsed, fell to pieces around me. I cut out recipes from
magazines, and in the kitchen, I have this burning desire, this
burning search to be chef, and baker. I sleep with cookbooks next to
me on my bed. And like the high priestess of soul, Nina Simone, or the
actress-celebrity Dorothy Dandridge, Oprah Winfrey, Misty Upham, you
can only bury your thoughts, your shame, the people that you hold
responsible for not loving you unconditionally, or protecting you.

Or nurturing you, or saying that they were proud of you, you can only
bury your feelings for so long. So, now I write about the stigma, the
bipolar struggle, the anxiety and fear that depression brings up
inside of me like a storm, and you will usually find me crying in the
dark, stifling my sobs into my pillow at night, dark is the night,
winter has moved on, and I shy away from autumn, I’m battling
survival, my survival, and I’m so well aware of the women who have not
lived to fight another day (Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Assia Wevill,
Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Donkin, Iris Chang, Petya Dubarova). I’m
battling daily. There are days that I feel deceived with burning
desire by every single man, woman, and child that I encounter. I think
of my happy childhood memories. I think of my sadness, my
introspection, my reflections that mirror my soul. Sometimes a certain
smell will take me back to childhood. Usually my mother’s perfume.
YSL’s Opium. To this day, that perfume gives me flashbacks.

Sometimes, just sometimes I think of the love of my life touching my
face, and then I see him walking away from me in a parking lot, and I
smile at this memory. I smile at the injustice of it all, that a man
had loved me after all, and I ask myself, do you want even more
heartache, more pain, more despair, then tell him that you love him
back, that you only live for him. I smile at the memory of Ted Hughes,
and Sylvia Plath, because after all he chose her to be his wife, and
the mother of his children. Weddings are happy occasions marked by
pomp and ceremony, and the happiness, and difficulties of both bride,
and groom. It hurts too much on the inhale of the howl, and inside I’m
a philosopher in the tradition of Nietzsche, and inside I’m a
preacher. And sometimes, just sometimes the history of the bipolar,
the madness life, the life that I live on my terms hurts too much on
the exhale. In the bathroom mirror I write the narrative of love to
myself.

There is a link between creativity, and mental illness, genius, and
madness, and then I think of my extraordinary achievements, of my
father’s giftedness, my mother’s own capacity for spells of
melancholy, and giddy happiness, her talent for flowers. I see things
that other people can’t. I hear things that other people can’t. I
can’t turn back time to the good old days. I have moths, and
butterflies, and swallows, and birds in my stomach, a reputation, an
angel-tongue in my mouth. Love has passed me by. I made a conscious
decision not to marry, not to have children, but it didn’t make me
less unafraid of the world around me. I made a conscious choice not to
experiment with illicit drugs. I don’t drink. And, yes, I thought the
love of my life, and I would live the years together, from the
infatuation-phase to the honeymoon-phase. It is better to have loved,
and lost, than never to have loved at all.

I have tried to take my own life four times now. I have relapsed more
times than I can care to remember, but I still believe in the
inter-communicative, inter-related, grassroots-secret of longevity. I
love life.