The Bactrian Room

If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shane L. Coffey: Blue Collar

"God my knees hurt," Johnny thought as he adjusted his pads and crouched behind the plate.  Another couple years of this and he knew he would be old before his time, not able to run or bike or kneel down to put ice on the shiner his son would get from a wild pitch.  "One endorsement contract, just one," he thought as the first pitch smacked into his mitt.  He didn't feel it.  He made a sign.  The pitcher shook his head.  He made the same sign, a bit more emphatically.  Danny Rico, the kid on the mound, had a cannon for an arm, but he still couldn't read a batter for beans.  Johnny was the best at that; every pitcher he'd ever caught said so.  But his bat was mediocre and he didn't look too good on camera.  The game had given him a decent living, better than decent, but then his kid was born early and his mom got sick and if his wife had to put up with a ball player's travel schedule then she at least wanted to spend money like a ball player's wife, not that he blamed her, and so here he was, starting the second season after his knees had been yelling for him to quit.  "Just one big endorsement contract," he thought as the second pitch, the pitch he'd called, slammed home and the umpire yelled "Stroi-eek!"

Rico's cannon had no shortage of ammo that day, and nine innings went by quick; the kid pitched a shutout and was only two bloop singles off a no-hitter, maybe the best rookie start in the history of the club. 

Nobody would remember, even know, how bad he'd have gotten shelled without Johnny calling his pitches. Johnny went one-for-four with two strikeouts and no RBIs.

Three hours later, Johnny was sitting in an overstuffed chair in the office of a sports drink company's advertising exec.  "This is it," he thought.  "It's been weeks of negotiating, but this is it.  I'll sign the papers, do a bunch of photo shoots and commercial spots, and in a few more months I can finally retire."

The ad exec spoke to his agent like Johnny wasn't even there.  "Look, Ned…I know we all have a lot invested in this deal, but…the boys upstairs have decided to go in a different direction."

"That's bullshit, Gus, and you know it."  Ned was trying to sound offended, but he clearly wasn't shocked.  "What 'direction' are they going?"

"Well, far be it from me to cause any tension in the clubhouse, but…  C'mon, Ned, you know Danny Rico's a local kid, and young, great physique, great stats in the minors, tests off the charts with the key demos…"

Gus kept talking, but Johnny didn't hear it.  He just hung his head.  Ned pretended to negotiate for about fifteen minutes, and then they both left.

Another 161 games went by slow, no post-season, and a winter spent wondering how long it would be into next spring before he'd get traded to God-knows-where.  "God," Johnny thought on opening day, "God, my knees hurt."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Donal Mahoney: Hilda's Family Reunion

Paddy didn't want to go to his wife's family reunion. He told her that in the same nice way he had told her in years past so as to avoid other reunions over the many years they had been married. Hilda had always given him a pass, telling her relatives his job required that he stay home. After he retired she'd tell them he wasn't up to the trip--a case of the flu or something. No one ever believed her but many were happy not to have Paddy there. It wasn't that he caused a problem. He just stuck out among the Ottos and Hanses. He would forever be an Irish interloper at a German family reunion. But this time Hilda was adamant about Paddy going with her. 

"Everyone's getting older," Hilda said, "and we should see them before someone else dies." 

Hilda was right, of course, Paddy had to admit, as she usually was. He was part of the family whether they liked him or not. 

"I grew up with those people, Paddy, and I may be seeing some of them for the last time. They may be boring to you but they're my family."

Unlike Hilda's relatives, Paddy's relatives, the ones already dead and the ones still alive, didn't hold family reunions, confining contact to cards at Christmas with signatures only, free of any personal messages unless someone had died, and that was just as well, Paddy thought. 

At any gathering of his people, the angry ones, and most of them had been angry since birth, would, after a few drinks, start picking scabs off old problems and fresh blood would flow. Hilda's folks did the same thing but with more discretion. You'd be bleeding and didn't know why.

There was a real din the last time Paddy's family had a reunion and that was 30 years ago. 

"It was a catastrophe lost in cacophony," Paddy told Hilda as he tried to recapture the ambience. Nevertheless, Paddy still saw his relatives at wakes. And the wakes were more frequent in recent years. 

"Hilda, the odd thing is the angriest ones look the most peaceful in a casket with or without a boutonniere or corsage."

A few in his family, however, still hoped there would be one more family reunion despite the debacle at the last one. They hoped that Paddy's cousin, Margaret Mary O'Mara, who'd been going to Mass every day since puberty, and was once a contemplative nun, would hold a final family reunion. 

"Everybody likes her corned beef and cabbage," Paddy told Hilda, who was wondering why anyone in Paddy's family would want another reunion after the last fracas 30 years ago. 

"Hilda, the problem at the last one was Timmy served tankards of Guinness before, after and during the meal and the Guinness prompted inevitable arguments about the past. Liquor and grudges are a bad mix. One of my cousins knocked another one out with one punch. We were lucky another cousin didn't count him out. He was once a boxing referee."

Hilda's people, however, weren't like his loud Irish relatives. Paddy had to grant them that. They were somber Germans who drank as much as Paddy's people did but they were steady drinkers, not given to jokes and laughter. They were quiet even when drunk, so Paddy couldn't tell which one of them would rip the first scab off the past and that was always a problem. 

He knew from the start Hilda's family didn't want her to marry him, an Irish Catholic from the wrong side of the theological tracks. He never fit in well with their German Lutheran culture beyond liking some of the food. They were serious, pious people not given to the frivolous, everything Paddy's family was not. In the beginning Paddy had tried to fit in but he had enough trouble keeping up with his own faith, never mind trying to understand everything Lutheran.

This time, however, Paddy silently decided he would go to his wife's reunion unless one of her kin died beforehand and everyone would go to the wake instead. It had happened before and could happen again but it's not the kind of thing Paddy would pray for. That would be bad form. Besides Germans take death seriously. None of the uproar and laughter that can occur at an Irish wake, especially if there were a tavern next door to the funeral home, which in Paddy's experience there always seemed to be. 

Truth be told, both families were moving closer and closer to the end of their life span and the lines on both sides were getting shorter. Every year it seemed someone else would drop out.

"All right, Hilda, I'll go," Paddy announced. "But I'll never go to another one even if all your people die first."

Hilda thought something didn't sound right about that. Why would there be another family reunion if all of her relatives died first? But as long as Paddy was willing to go to this one, she thought she'd be wise to say nothing and leave well enough alone.

"How about a nice dish of pickled pigs feet for supper, Paddy," she said with a smile. "I remember that was one of the few things you liked when you went with me to the other family reunion. And you said the bratwurst and kraut weren't that bad, either."

Monday, June 9, 2014

John Pursch: Amelia, Queeg of Sots

Amelia aired her heart across the ivory dusk
to seize in wondrous plangent overflight
of tundra youth and glockenspiel hilarity
for twisted tantrums, bellicose
in all verbosity’s splendid kingdom:
“I’ll warn you, Harold, but this once:
we’ll start the dreaded seizures,
whence again your hairy doctored species
won’t have half a chalice of grassroots
juicy floozy staid remission spume,
held in reversal’s timeless easement,
plying buck and board or otherwise,
to skimp along inhalant newsstand stocking grunge.”

(Proclaimed with such authority, as if to signal
supper’s come and gone and nary her fairy
codpiece’s latent motherhood lullaby,
in tandem tamed or utterly repaid
with lucid fleshly blurs.)

Stir Harold, Skeg of Pallid Froth,
Turd Pearl of Doubter Tripedia,
listened dryly, plunging headlong
into wafer-thin custard sluice:
“Quite, yes; breast for brats,
bully for BLT’s, a posh trope,
angered by locales of inflammation
corduroys or carrion lagoons,
if idling séance media medallions
still mean anything.”

“Height of the seasoning, my feared dalliance!”
Amelia, herself no lust than Queeg of Hemp
or Alderwoman of Halted Turnover Smile Quartets,
sawed off a fit of piquant equipage,
baring all 47 of her falsetto teeth,
plushly realigned that selfsame afternoon
in painstakingly paraded adjutant
adjudication lunchroom tryst.

Skeg Harold, erstwhile Hairy O’Turbulent,
himself a wild canoe on mangy an open lake
and prolonged key to heavenly moorings
from God’s Ivy palaces to bedpost-banging district
donor spume receptacles in humble humming format;

well then, Wild Harry was wise and wizened enough
to scare not half a wit regarding formal battlements
in certitude of breaching moats, gunwales,
or fuming in canals, so variously plundered.
“All the more to make ‘em happier to serve the crown,
especially when mythos tattles savory know-it-salt
on peppered fragrant flagrancies,
what none can demonstrate or even dream to prove,
in skirt of laundry woman’s realm
of lured-to-courtyard debutante’s infernal wick
of sanded hourly disputation.”

He paused thoughtfully, swallowing a healthy blast
of yardarm port, puffed long and slowly on a dead cigar,
convolved to ashen eggplant muse, and so continued:
“Slung as so-called seismic activation commences posthaste,
keeping the masses fully hocked and piled in tertiary tasks
of tusk line duty,” eyeing his opponent
(or was it partner; no one moniker will quite suffice),
“I, for one, would certainly welcome regulation outbreaks
of whatever virulent and strange concoctions
our blessed biologics care to cast upon
the albeit already somewhat turbid seas
of our own immodest disrepair.”

Raising one eyebrow, then the other,
finally registering a twinkle,
Amelia, Queeg of Hallowed Turnstile Lawns,
let fly her goblet, spraying
Campers, Neighing Sovereigns,
Charred Oles, and Preening Gringos
in rainbow arch across the table,
soaking Hairy’s whale-trimmed beard,
drenching his immaculately laundered monkey suit,
reducing his fine coiffeur to placid dishrag fair:
“You, for one, for once, can sire a wrecked mutative lot
of seized and fallow terriers, you impudent buffoon,
furrower of slotted termagants, chastened toiler of tail
after hefty snail hooker sniggerer!”

At this, a hush fell over the room.

Servants froze, the music stopped mid-beat,
even the dancers hung as if in time suspended
(every one would swear to dying day
to have remained aloft until
the Skeg of Pallid Froth himself
had finally deemed the moment fit to rise).

By all accounts, for possibly a paralyzingly
interminable skein of five minutes or more,
Skeg Harold sat rigid, silently transfixed,
in thought perhaps or inner rage or simple quandary,
obviously preparing the finest form of regal retort;
or so all present had imagined and would attest
in later biographical reviews.

Finally he shoved back his chair,
the wooden echo filling everyone’s ears
with certain terror of impending purges,
ignominious beheadings, defenestrations,
capsized yachts, tugboats aflame,
drained moats, village idiocy,
pilloried knaves…

He slowly rose, stepped from the table’s disarray,
and thereupon began his excruciatingly deliberate
first of his table, then the crown Prince’s,
then the Duchess of Elderhairy Fine’s,
then the Harshdupe Furtive Gland’s,
followed by the dreaded inspection of the orchestra pit,
the emptying of pockets (including the conductor’s!),
the discovery of 318 crack pipes, innumerable bags of weed,
half-full snorters, lighters, spoons, syringes,
crumbled pills of opiates, designer shrugs,
time-travelers masquerading as low-level functionaries,
Robert E. Lee in full retreat from Gettysburg (again!),
Charlemagne selling codfish to underage penguins,
a bathroom packed with pharaohs
on parole from Asphyxiation Row.

John Pursch lives in Tucson, Arizona. His work has been nominated for Best of the Net and has appeared in many literary journals. A collection of his poetry, Intunesia, is available in paperback at His recently released experimental lit-rap video is at He’s @johnpursch on Twitter and john.pursch on Facebook.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Patrick Longe: If I Had One Hundred Centos

Good morning, Houston- this is Radio Gloria broadcasting to you live from the Twin Cities with a special hello today to the Free State of Baltimore. We’d like to take this moment to tell you what we think; lighten up. And, to all you mothers out there mother on. It came through the PA system like had been excerpted from the police radio, it was arranged between some kind of official jargon. Some kind of co-opt of the airwaves. Out there where lingo rules the "thoughts" are known as folks from the Sixties and Seventies who have some kind of ongoing dialectic with the cultural scene. The common ground being that such artistic endeavors are the bedrock of society. Some sorts of legislators I guess feel entrusted with the public good-that exists in the media empire. The message though seemed like some kind of foray into enemy positions. Something like me writing up notes at Uptown Dallas Espresso. Everyone in this story fashions themselves some sort of secret service, and some that are spies too! For IT is Information Technology, and on more pedestrian level the motto is "you're only as good as your information." Today, I'm expounding on the idea that these self-anointed icons of a generation are living on in subsequent variations as youth adopt attitudes. Though they too can be as much duped as anyone by these fascists of the senses. Though many involved for jockeying in positions of influence can be duped themselves, or fronting, and very much less often reality instigators. Interestingly enough there are two sides to this equation-each thinks their import outweighs the other. However, both have the same goal to exert influence. Of course, one side has its beginnings finding toe tag of the Woodstock era. The others just found themselves in the middle of the reach and breadth too much to ignore thru decades. Each would equally claim "product" of which some consciousness played along to and taken note. As they sit across from each other across the governmental divide, the earthmaker is of the middle, or table of hidden agendas (is this sought Third Eye?). This lends itself to thinking that of the million stories in the big city, they're inklings of, let's say the left and right, each of what position and to what person? Perhaps, they would be together satisfied with forgotten memory of acts and actions- each has creeping intuition they have been breached. Where or by whom, of what grouping, what depository? What status of recourse can they develop, is such possible? Have all been set up? There are shadow characters of characters, why not government behind government. In essence, this may be tossed ball seeking to rebound. Similar to the "game" in international affairs where war the currency-each person represents someone or something, and this keeps going and going. It's a kaleidoscope itself, and its parts enough to drive people crazy. It's a spectrum of class distinctions. And, as dear readers, as well as actors of life, can put together own story from the menu of stories, how this became to be, or this person there. And, to top it all off, of these artistes, central to the cultural milieu-what themselves could possibly know of how game pieces are game pieces. Or, perhaps inclined or aligning. Or, maybe just agreed that left hand and right hand can be equal outside of social contacts. A new apartheid of rainbow grouping. Of course, for this to dominate (if we get the head….). Alas, all are alive in the media empire of this story unique to these United States. The middle though, those undulating rebels served in sandwich of themselves-the meat being meat. So live on the Various States of America; pissed, blown away, excited, reading, hysterical, such a hoot, fueled by drunkenness or laughter, or both. And, lest we forget the great population that plays outside these windows of universal view-those with locked closets of the mind, have no idea. This is what keeps things what they are-absurd if to present as actuality. However, whether know it or not, or involved in the idea-the message had become character, life has been invaded by the narrator-the cataclysmic world we know of news, sports fashion, business, etc. Of these with inquiring minds the answer is always well to the next "best yet." This I'm told acknowledged by those on the front lines and that some drag themselves into the quagmire on their own charges (likewise some in pretense). The beauty found is of the new vision framed (the nebulous new order) another event, or song, or stage adds to the discourse. And those of the left, right, middle-all have an eye out-for kindling it is everywhere. And wouldn't you know it's all wiped away for another day (for there are many lulls), the weather the only score. What comes along as in a unique role for each is salt of a bunch of ten-year-olds mixing it up. The illustration digested is that (and in what medium?) are "uptight, why and what for?" And so it's all ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, and they can listen forever on whatever channel receive in brain of narrator invaded, like hearing voices the color wheel of generally so life in the Great Experiment. And they can talk forever, if even only to self (like the devil in the air).

Patrick Longe has been writing poetry since 1987 and most recently published in Haggard and Halloo, Mad Swirl, lightning'd press, lines+stars, Camel Saloon, The Screech Owl and The Blue Hour. Before moving to Tampa in 2000 to be near young children he had always lived in Detroit area. Wayne State University journalism graduate he works in marketing and is active photojournalist.

Monday, May 19, 2014

KJ Hannah Greenberg: The Equipment Maintenance Man

The equipment maintenance man had more than a crush on the hard-nosed theatrical beauty from New York. Her eastern twang endeared her to him and her dynamic display of indignation made her seem the hottest woman he had ever met. During his many years of work in small time theatres, no other starlet, not even those individuals regularly animated during performances, was as vibrant to him as was Gee Gee Parker.

Gee Gee, though, could not be bothered with “minions” such as maintenance workers. Once life’s elevator doors had opened for her, she had leapt out, claiming her share of reality lighting assignments and small, walk on parts. Ever so briefly, she considered, but then rejected, devoting her life to raising funds for retired actors.

The janitor knew that lavatories remained one place in which cameras rarely lit peoples’ choices. Gee Gee merely assumed that no one would use the basement bathroom except for theater troop members. She had smiled weakly at the maintenance man as she had walked past him to get to a stall, never dreaming he’d lock her in.

The hourly wager inhaled his beloved’s protests, hoping against hope that those noises would go on forever. He had always attended her performances and was excited about this private staging. He knew that Gee Gee had missed his sneer when she had run for the toilet.

She was pregnant. She missed a lot of things. Dryfus, who had taken up with the lab assistant of his, who was working on her doctorate, missed a lot of things, too. He had even appointed another graduate student to proctor his midterms so that he could make more time for carnal sport.

Initially, Gee Gee had shadowed the younger woman, but had stopped short of the other’s bedroom, so afraid was she of reptiles. The other woman had brought cold blooded friends along with her when she enrolled in Dryfus’ program.

Sometimes, Dryfus was so preoccupied with his paramour’s exotic “sensibilities” that he forgot what he was teaching, stumbling, midlecture, in front of hundreds of students. Other times, like when emails popped up reminding him to renew professional memberships, or when snail mail, full of alumni announcements, from the departments where he had studied for his three respective degrees, arrived, he remembered that he was a tenured professor, father and husband.

The equipment maintenance man sniggered. He had at last caught his beauty. He rested his chin on his hand and would have remained poised as such had Gee Gee’s husband not walked into the toilet area.

Dryfus had been served papers, by Gee Gee’s lawyer, and had come to the theatre to beg for reconciliation. He meant to use the little known facilities in the basement to cry a bit before going upstairs to look for her.

The janitor dipped his mop in his bucket and wiped the floor. Thereafter, he sponged the sinks. Dryfus watched him.

Gee Gee heard her husband’s voice and footfall. Maybe he could actualize her escape. Her short tenure, on the psychiatric floor of the city’s medical center, which had followed her attempt to simultaneously slit her wrists, ingest pills, and chug down 100 Proof vodka, following her discovery of Dryfus’ dalliance, had been unpleasant.

Gee Gee began to silently cry. She had known that her marriage was troubled before learning about Dryfus’ infidelity. Yet, her psychologist only probed those places that the would-be actress made accessible. Gee Gee had spent literal decades covering traumas. Painting her face, every weekend, in order to deliver two or three lines, during a full length play, was not helping her get past any emotional bottleneck.

The maintenance man began to mop the floor of the farthest stall. He was unsure what he was going to do when he reached Gee Gee’s cage. If he had been able to reach the bathroom’s highest window and to toss Dryfus out, he would have. Maybe the husband would leave on his own. As long as Gee Gee failed to make any noise, she remained a prisoner. Accordingly, the man continued mopping until reaching the stall holding her. He motioned to Dryfus and then pointed to his bucket.

Dryfus nodded, promising to wait on the other side of the bathroom’s entrance. He was in no hurry to search the theatre for his wife. Maybe he could delay with a second comb over.

Billy came into the rest room. He flipped back a door, unzipped, did what was needed, rezipped and washed. He noticed Dryfus. The man’s presence, midday, was curious.

Gee Gee heard Billy’s footfall. Maybe that chum would rescue her. Maybe she should take up with him.

Some thespians bonded over hair styles or nose rings. Other pairs stayed together because of shared adventures in cooking, in karate, or in new math. Billy hadn’t really glommed unto anyone. Gee Gee was one of the few people with whom he exchanged salutations. What’s more whenever she brought baked goods to the theatre, he made sure to take some and to compliment her efforts.

Gee-Gee’s guts spilled over in the same way in which they had when she had eaten bad sushi. She used the toilet, and then, forgetting the goings on, flushed. Thereafter, it was of small matter for her to pound on the door of her stall. Both Dryfus and Billy ran in her direction. The janitor ran the other way.

Minutes later, Gee Gee was liberated. The police were en route. Billy, Dryfus and Gee Gee moved upstairs to the green room, a space to which none of them were entitled. They sipped coffee as they waited.

Dryfus frowned. He had hoped to make short work of locating his wife, to beg and to receive her forgiveness and to return to his graduate student for an afternoon of mortise and tendon.

Billy smiled. When Gee Gee had been hospitalized, he had visited her daily to play chess and bridge. His years of training in economics, plus his familiarity with organized crime, enabled him to discern good investments from bad ones.

It had been Billy who had sent the revealing pictures of Dryfus and the graduate student to Gee Gee. It had been Billy, as well, who had meant to trap her in a bathroom stall. It was a pity that his son had acted first.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Donal Mahoney: Margaret Mary Kelly, 82, Wants to Marry Paddy Regan, 84

Father Brennan had been pastor of St. Ignatius Church for 20 years, a long time for any one priest to remain at one parish. Usually the archbishop would transfer a pastor after he had served seven years. By that time, parishioners might have needed a fresh face and fresher homilies and the pastor, truth be told, might like to see a few new faces himself in the pews every Sunday morning.

That wasn't the case with Father Brennan, however. St. Ignatius was a parish in decline in terms of parishioners and he loved those who were still there, the ones who hadn't moved or passed away. There were only about 60 people left now, most of them widows and widowers as well as one nice elderly maiden who had never married, Margaret Mary Kelly, who studied early in life to become a nun but ultimately decided that life as a nun was not for her. She moved back home to care for her aging parents and did a fine job. Her father died at 84 and her mother at 81. 

Margaret Mary herself now was 82. That's why Father Brennan was surprised to hear--word travels like a rabbit in a small parish--that Margaret Mary was thinking of marrying a widower older than she was, a man named Paddy Regan, 84, who lived in another parish a few miles away. She had never in her life shown any interest in marriage. Nor did she ever have to fight any men off. She was a fine woman not known for her comeliness as much as for her wit and her holiness. 

Father Brennan didn't know what to think.

"Well," he said to himself over a cup of tea, "if Margaret Mary wants to get married, we'll do our best for her. I just hope the groom-to-be is in fine health. The two of them may not realize that in the Catholic Church a couple must be able to engage in sexual intercourse or the marriage would be null and void. I know they have all these medications now to give a man a boost but at 84 a man might need a rocket to get the job done."

Sure enough, two weeks later, Margaret Mary rang the rectory door bell and asked to see Father Brennan. He was about to eat lunch but asked her to come right into his small library where they could sit and talk.

"I'm planning on marrying Paddy Regan, Father, a widower one parish over," Margaret Mary began, "and I thought I should come see you to make the arrangements. At our age, Paddy and I would like to get married as soon as we can. Even though we have no serious health problems, God might call either one of us any day now. So we'd like to take our vows and, as they say, start living happily ever after, however long that might be."

Father Brennan didn't know how to begin to approach the potential problem of the couple's physical readiness to engage in the conjugal act, the Church's official term for sexual intercourse within a marriage. Even if Margaret Mary had brought Paddy Regan with her, it wouldn't have been any easier to approach the subject of Mr. Regan's potency or lack thereof. Father Brennan figured Margaret Mary might be marrying for companionship as might Mr. Regan. Every once in awhile, however, another Hugh Hefner pops up but that had happened only once before at St. Ignatius parish and the man, a legend in the neighborhood, died on his honeymoon, blissful, Father Brennan hoped, at age 87. 

"Well, Margaret Mary," Father Brennan said, "you say you and Paddy are both in good health. Does he get out and about or sit around all day watching TV?"

Margaret Mary didn't know what to say except that Paddy Regan had struck her as being in fine shape, no matter the fact that he was into his eighties. After all, he had been a widower for three years so he must know what he wanted to do. Besides, he had been married twice before and both wives had died of natural causes. The first one had given him six children and the second one had given him another five. All of the children, well into adulthood now, were married, had good jobs and were a joy to Paddy. Besides, he didn't drink or smoke and could dance much younger women to the point of being too tired to continue. Light on his feet, Paddy was. 

Father Brennan's reluctance in getting down to business had a lot to do with knowing Margaret Mary had once studied to be a nun and had spent the rest of her life taking care of her aging parents. She was a very spiritual woman. When possible, she used to bring her parents to daily Mass until they got too sick to come. After both had died, she herself attended daily Mass at 6:30 a.m. and had been doing that for at least 15 years. He doubted Margaret Mary knew much about sex, never mind the Church's requirement that any man seeking to marry had to be capable of having sexual intercourse. There would be no pass for Paddy Regan if he couldn't deliver the goods, as Father Brennan liked to think of it. God bless Paddy if he's up to it, Father thought, and then chastised himself for the unintended pun.

"Well, Margaret Mary, I know that you and Paddy won't be having a family but tell me are you sure he's looking for a wife and not a housekeeper?"

This comment did not sit too well with Margaret Mary, who rustled in her seat.

"Father, I told Paddy Regan there would be no messing around till I had a ring on my finger and we had said our vows. I told him I was a virgin and I would remain a virgin if we didn't get married. The man has had two wives, Father, and 11 children. I don't think he's looking for a housekeeper. He has a daughter who comes over twice a week to clean his house and she does a fine job of it. No, he's looking for a wife, I can tell you that. We have only kissed and hugged but he doesn't kiss me the way he might kiss his sister who, God bless her, is still going strong at 90, having been widowed twice herself. If I had a brother, I'd introduce him to her. A very nice woman."

Father Brennan decided he probably had to get to the point.

"Margaret Mary, your intended has had sex for most of his adult life and this will be something new for you. I imagine you have some idea what to expect if Paddy is still able to make love. Some men at his age aren't capable of doing that any more. You are probably aware of the physical aspects of marriage, I'm sure, and what will be expected of Paddy in the marital embrace." Marital embrace was another term the clergy used when discussing sexual intercourse. 

Margaret Mary took a deep breath, uncrossed her legs and looked Father Brennan right in the eye.

"Father, all we have done is kiss and hug but on his birthday Paddy asked me to sit on his lap and give him a big kiss. Well, if he's not healthy enough to have sex, Father, I wish he had taken that crowbar out of his pocket. Scared the dickens out of me. I almost jumped off his lap. Can we get down to business now and set the date. Paddy and I aren't getting any younger." 

Father Brennan coughed, looked at his desk calendar and said "How about four weeks from now? That will give us time to announce the bans of marriage in church and do everything right. And, of course, I'd like to meet Paddy Regan myself so I'll recognize him at the ceremony. I'd hate to make a mistake and marry you off to the best man."

Margaret Mary Kelly left the rectory that day happy to have the date for her wedding set. 

That night, Father Brennan called another priest a few parishes over and told him about the upcoming wedding without mentioning any names.

They both had a bit of a chuckle and marveled at how hope springs eternal in the people of God, whatever their age. 

Then the other priest, before hanging up, said he'd bet the flower girl will be at least 65. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Anuradha Bhattacharyya: Night Bus

I was on my way to Jaipur by bus from Delhi after the Diwali break. I was very tired after the train journey from Shiliguri. My home town is Gangtok. My grandparents had moved in there for business purposes and we have lived there ever since. Otherwise I am from Jabbalpur, Bihar. Some of my relatives live there. I have often visited them but lately, after I took admission in the Regional College of Engineering at Jaipur, all my pleasure trips have been curtailed for this long, tiring journey twice in a year from Gangtok to Jaipur, cutting right across the entire country longitudinally. Someday I hope I will see Kashmir and go straight down to Kanyakumari as well just to check it out. I hope that trip would be pleasurable.

I want to tell you about one lovely but mind boggling conversation I had on this bus from Delhi to Jaipur. It was half past eleven at night when I boarded it and I knew that the bus would reach its destination about six hours later. I wanted a nap and prayed for a peaceful ride. But I had this unexpected little companion befooling me and spoiling my rest. As I boarded the bus and looked for my seat I saw a young girl wearing blue jeans and a yellow T-shirt and a golden jacket was casually slipped in. She had no companion in the seat next to her. I said to her,

Err, is this seat vacant?
What’s your number?
This is it.
Voila, at last!
How far will you go?
To Jaipur. I am coming from Gangtok. Straight.
And you?
You’ll go to Jaipur?
When do we reach the midway restaurant?
At one-thirty, Behror.
Two hours. I’m so tired. Traveling by train. Awful. This is my second trip. I’ve yet to get used to it.
What do you do in Jaipur?
I’m studying in MREC. You know?
Yes, Engineering College. So you’ve come from Gangtok?
Yes. All the way. It’s so tiring.
Could you please keep your leg away from me?
Oh sorry, I’m tall.
How much?
Five, nine.
I see. So this is the end of your vacation? How many days did you have? Fifteen. From now trapped again for six months. Where do you study in Jaipur?
You stay in the hostel?
Do you like it?
Yes, it’s fun.
How’s the food?
Hmm, go-od, sometimes we cook by ourselves at night. That’s fun.
The man behind you…
The one sitting behind you…
With large round eyes. Is he drunk?
I don’t know. I haven’t seen him.
He got in after you. He’s leaning on my seat.
Yours? O is he disturbing you?
Aye, that’s why I can’t lean back. When I turned round he was watching me with bulging eyes.


Are you sleepy?
You were tired.
No I slept in the train.
I know somebody in MREC.
In which department?
He has joined recently.
A student?
No, a lecturer. Which is your department?
Then you won’t know him.
Why, we know almost every teacher. What is he in?
But he is very new. In Metallurgy.
So you’re going to him?
No, no. Ya, well, I might see him too.
Where do you stay in Jaipur?
In the hostel.
O you too? Where is your home?
From Dehradun to Jaipur? Why?
Just like that. What do you cook in the hostel?
Noodles, porridge, soybeans… On Sundays they give us meat at lunch; then we have to get our own dinner.
I see.
Do you have special meals a week? We have Sunday special and dinner off.
We get four meals everyday.
So you don’t have to cook for yourself. What’s the name of your hostel?
I won’t tell you.
Why? What’s your name?
I won’t tell you.
That’s strange. I …
Sometimes the girls cook tomato curry. Eggs. Do you like cooking?
Not much. Why, don’t you?
I don’t think I do.
No? But you’ll have to, one day.
I’ll never cook. The girls do it. They give me a share, that’s all.
But you’ll have to cook when you’re married.
O, I’ll marry someone who’ll do the cooking.
laughs What’s your mother tongue?
Why? Don’t I speak Hindi well?
No, yes. Okay, do you have caste barriers?
No, not much.
We have a bit.
What’s your name?
Prasad. But I am the youngest son and all my brothers are married. I have four brothers. We are a joint family. One of them is in Delhi… Maybe in my case it won’t be a problem.
Are you in love?
Ha? … You are!
Ya… smiles
And she is in your college?
No, in Gangtok.
What is she doing?
I think she’ll finish her school this year.
You THINK !?
She is a neighbour. I have not talked to her.
How old is she?
Twenty, I think.
TWENTY ! Then she must be in college!
No, … actually she’s not… good…
Maybe she has … somebody else …
She … sometimes goes out with friends.
Have you seen her with a guy?
No one in particular. She looks at me. We smile.
Then go and talk to her!
Every time I think of telling her I have doubts about her reaction.
Why, be bold!
Have you told anyone?
Has she any close friends you can talk to?
She comes to my house sometimes. But I don’t get a chance to talk to her. She talks to my sister-in-law.
Can’t you tell your sister-in-law? How old is she?
Yes, I’m very close to my youngest sister-in-law. But I don’t know how to say it.
But if you love her, you must do something. Otherwise it’ll be useless.
Maybe next time I’ll try.
My boyfriend told me quite frankly.
The man behind is snoring. I’m feeling cold. Are you sleepy? How much time is left to reach Behror?
I can’t see the watch.
I’ll try to see my watch by the street lights.
Well, where is he now?
Who? My boyfriend? He’s in Delhi. Like you, doing M.E. in Electronics Engineering. You are in M.E., aren’t you?
Yes and you?
I’m doing my graduation in Economics. We haven’t met for a year now. In the summer vacations I saw him from a distance, we smiled; that was all. I hoped to see him this time. But no.
But you are sure?
O sure. Very sure. I know he loves me. Distance doesn’t matter. Now we are studying.
Doesn’t he come to meet you?
To Jaipur, or Delhi when you change buses there.
I don’t change buses and we pass Delhi at midnight. It was eleven thirty when you took it.
So you keep contact only on the phone?
No. We meet on vacations, I told you!
What’s the name of your hostel?
Have you been sightseeing round Jaipur, Rajasthan?
Not Rajasthan, but we went round places within Jaipur like Amber Fort, Kanak Ghati… and you?
I’ve seen Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal out of curiosity. There’s something romantic about them but too many tourists make them appear to be market places.
Did you feel bad?
Not bad, but something to prevent me from going there again.
But you’ll be here for a long time. This is your first year?
No second.
And which college?
No point asking me.
You won’t tell me?
I feel since we are both in Jaipur for some time we could become friends.
No point.
Girls don’t like to tell about their whereabouts to strangers. Why so?
No, nothing like that.
There now we have reached Behror. I think I’ll go down to smoke and have coffee. Coming?
And come back and sit with me!?
Why? You don’t like it?
It’s not a question of liking it. I can’t bear smoke!
You can have your coffee.
I think I will.
And I’ll sleep.

When I returned after not smoking, she was sleeping. If I am allowed to make a hunch, she was probably not sleeping. She was merely pretending to be sleeping so that I don’t talk to her any more. I raised my knees and jammed them against the seat in front of me and closed my eyes. I must have fallen heavily asleep since when I heard her speak I had no notion of how much time had passed. Not only that, it was dawn and the landscape outside the window was amazingly beautiful, although we were inside the city. She said,

Here’s Jaipur bus stand. Look at that man!
Gone. Funny looking.
Did you sleep well?
Fine and you?
So, so. Didn’t have any trouble from behind, I hope?
He’s half dead in sleep. It was good we talked.
I think I’ll find out your address.
I don’t think I will recognize you if I see you again.
You know what, I haven’t seen your face as yet. It’s been dark all the way and we have been sitting side by side, haven’t we?
See now, I’ve seen yours.
Even you won’t recognize me in a different surrounding.
I bet I will.
If you please.
But you won’t?

After this I dared not ask for her phone number.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Donal Mahoney: Hubert Might Go Upstairs But Not To Rome

Tea in the afternoon with his wife of many years is usually peaceful, Hubert thinks before he makes his announcement. Then he says it. 

"I'm going upstairs," Hubert tells Ruth as he hoists himself out of his old recliner, "and if I don't ever come back down it's because you want to fly to Rome before we die so we can meet Pope Francis. Fat chance of that happening! You think the pope takes walks in St. Peter's Square?"

"Well, why shouldn't we go," Ruth says. "We may be old but we're still healthy and seeing Rome might be nice. Pope Francis seems like a pretty nice guy."

"Getting old is bad enough," Hubert says, "but why complicate matters with a trip to Rome? We'd have to pull out visas and passports and we'd have TSA agents--total strangers--patting us down in nooks reserved for a doctor or spouse. Besides, Pope Francis might be busy."

"Well, I'd still like to go," Ruth mumbles, none too happy with her husband's lack of enthusiasm. "If I wanted to go to Minnesota and fish for northern pike, you'd be packed, sitting in the car and gunning the motor. Why not do something interesting while we still have time? We'll be dead long enough."

Hubert suddenly has another idea, one he hopes Ruth will buy into. 

"Why not let me die first and then you and the ladies from the garden club can go to Rome on that certificate of deposit we let sit in the bank all these years, the one I should have cashed in and invested in that electric car company, Tesla. 

"That CD is big enough to take you and five ladies to Rome and back home again. They'd probably like to see Pope Francis as well. Fat chance of that. Unless you want to stand with thousands of others on a Wednesday morning when he speaks from the balcony. Better take binoculars."

Hubert is on a roll now, explaining to Ruth that she and the ladies will have a great time touring gothic churches and eating the finest pasta in the world once he's in the ground looking up but unable to see the sky. 

"Once I'm dead, Ruth, you won't have to worry about me being grumpy on the trip. I'll be in the family graveyard stretched out between your Uncle Elmer and your Uncle Vince. Right now those two fine farmers are staring at the sky and bookending the plot your father allotted to me once the poor man realized I was actually going to be his son-in-law."

When Hubert first met Ruth's father many decades ago--fresh off the plane from Chicago, in a suit and tie no less--her father had bounced Hubert over many a country road to show him the plot in the family graveyard reserved in case Ruth married someone eventually. She hadn't married young because as a professional photographer working for National Geographic she had traveled all over the world and preferred taking photos to marrying any of the men she had met. Then she met Hubert in Chicago and decided to settle down. 

Taking Hubert home to meet her extended family of farmers, however, had not been easy for either of them. And not easy for her family either. They had hoped Ruth would marry one day, preferably a farmer with lots of acreage, not some editor from a big city and certainly not someone like Hubert who couldn't tell a Holstein cow from a Guernsey.

No matter how much Ruth talked about the delights of a trip to Rome, Hubert still didn't have much interest in going, with or without the rare possibility of meeting Pope Francis. 

Hubert liked Pope Francis because the media kept hoping the pope would change some things in the Catholic Church but the things the media hoped he would change no pope could ever change. It would be like saying the color red is blue which can never be true. 

Pope Francis, Hubert knew, was an old Jesuit, theologically sound and skilled in  handling the media. What's more he had the capacity to rile both conservative and liberal Catholics at the same time. And it was always interesting to see him pop up on the nightly news. Anchors not too well acquainted with matters Catholic would sometimes offer commentary far off the mark. 

"Ruth, you and I are the only family left, except for the kids and they're doing fine working in the big city, several big cities, in fact, as your father would have called them.  And although the grim reaper isn't waving his scythe and ringing our doorbell yet, I still think you should let me die first and then you and the garden gals can go to Rome. When you get back you can plant sunflowers around my headstone to give the squirrels something to gnaw on in the many hot summers to come."

"Well," Ruth said, "if you had a terminal disease, I might not mind the wait. Why don't we go out for dinner now and we can talk about all this later. I'm hungry."

"Okay," Hubert said, "but I hear the pike are hitting the lures pretty hard up in Minnesota. And I think there's a new bishop in charge. We could go to the cathedral for Mass. Maybe you and the new bishop could have a chat. Some day he might become pope. One of these days an American has to get that job. Can you imagine listening to the News at 10 when that happens."

Ruth agreed to go to a Thai restaurant that evening, a place she had never gone to in the past. It was a tiny place where immigrants from Thailand liked to eat. She knew the food would be too spicy for her but that Hubert would love it. 

Eating Thai food was the start of her new campaign to win Hubert over to making that trip to Rome--following a fishing trip to Minnesota, of course. Ruth planned on asking that new bishop to drop a note to Pope Francis to let him know she and Hubert would be coming to visit. She thought it was only right to give him time to adjust his schedule. She was planning on giving him a big batch of her fudge--and a small batch to Hubert to eat on the plane.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Perry L. Powell: Collateral

You are a drone outside my window.   I am hiding, crouched down in the bath tub with the shower curtain closed.  You are buzzing like an angry bee.  I piss my pants.  The liquid is cold under my seat and I shiver and bite my teeth.  You slam into the glass panes and I am sure they  will shatter from the impact.  Or maybe you will fire hellfire missiles. And I don’t know who sent you; I don’t know why you are here or what I have done...  Why me?  I am a civilized man, a gentle person.  I have never hurt anyone.  My shadow is on the curtain.  Somehow it seems a reproach.  Finally I decide I have to confront you.  I part the curtain and step over the side of the tub.  I am ready to be brave.

Suddenly, there is a loud noise, as if heaven itself were breaking apart.  You have exploded for no reason.  The light warms the window panes.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Andy Smart: Washing in Bad Water

When I lived in Belle Plaine, Wisconsin, I used to fish with my neighbor Jerry Bilinski. He was the son of a dairy farmer, and he was the only guy with enough patience to fish with me, a greenhorn from Madison. Most of the time I talked while Jerry hauled in pike. He baited hooks with one hand, held an Old Milwaukee in the other, and listened to everything I said. I told him all about myself: I took a job at Clintonville High School teaching English, both of my parents were teachers, I had a girlfriend at UW, and I had never been to Lambeau Field. And, until I met Jerry, I had never been fishing, which I told him the first time we went.

“No shit, not once?” Jerry said.

“Nope. Never. Dad isn’t into it.” 

“Never? Damn. I mean, nothing against your dad, but damn. My dad loved to fish, after he sold the farm and moved to Appleton. He’s been dead a long time, though. You really never went?” 

I laughed. The thought of my father and me trying to wrestle a musky into a boat was ludicrous. First, we’d have to fight over which of us would touch the fish, and eventually we’d cut the line and say we didn’t get a bite all day. But I didn’t tell Jerry that. 

“No, Dad’s more of a golfer,” I said. 

“Oh. Well that’s all right. You go golfing with him, and you can go fishing with me.” Jerry turned the boat toward the dock. It was late afternoon, and the sun was the same color on the lake as it was in the sky. When we got home, it was dark.

“Thanks, Jerry, this was a good day,” I said. I climbed out of the truck and shut the door. 

“Yeah, it was fun. We’ll do it again. Night.” Jerry turned around in my driveway and rolled across the street. I watched him unhitch the boat and back the truck into the garage before I went inside.

We fished together as often as we could, until it got too cold for me. One day, Jerry came over and knocked on the door while I was grading papers.

“Hey there,” he said. “Gonna take the boat out for a while. You, wanna come?” He fidgeted with the zipper of his coat. “I got a spare hunting jacket you can wear.” 

It was frigid outside. I watched Jerry tie a leader on, without gloves, like it was nothing. Everything I saw Jerry do looked effortless, like it was just Jerry doing what he was supposed to, by some law of nature.

“My mom’s got cancer,” Jerry said. “She called me this morning.” It was strange to hear him talk so candidly. He told me his mom had been sick for months, but hadn’t wanted to tell him. “She didn’t want me to worry. You believe that shit?” Jerry looked out at the lake. Everything was still, except the gentle rocking of the boat. I knew I should say something.  

“Jesus, Jerry, I’m sorry.” I said. “How bad is it?” Jerry laid his rod down. 

“She’s going to have to come live with me,” he said. “She can’t stay by herself anymore. And I don’t want to leave here.” Jerry didn’t tell me that his mom had Stage 4 rectal cancer, or that she sometimes bled back there. But he told me she was in a wheelchair now, and he would have to take her into Green Bay for chemotherapy. 

Jerry’s mom moved to Belle Plaine around Christmas. I watched Jerry help her out of the truck. She was decently hearty looking, like a Wisconsin farm wife. She didn’t look sick. Until she got into her wheelchair, I thought maybe there had been some mistake. Maybe Jerry’s mom was going to be okay. Jerry washed his mom’s wheelchair, a couple times a month, out in his driveway. He rolled it out, locked the brakes, and cleaned it with a green chamois and a bucket of soapy water. He dried it off with a pink bath towel, sprayed the seat with Windex, and rolled the chair back inside. 

Everyone on Adams Beach Road saw him, at some point, cleaning his mom’s chair. It wasn’t voyeurism, we just couldn’t help it. We had to look. The old women of Belle Plaine knew they might be like Jerry’s mom soon. When they saw Jerry, they saw their own sons, and it frightened them. When Jerry waved from his yard, the old ladies only half waved back before they turned away and drew the blinds. The only thing they resented more than Jerry’s dying mother was Jerry.  His devotion made the old women wonder if their children would do the same for them.

I cared about Jerry, so I watched, like I’d watch him catch a forty pound musky, when he washed that chair. Something about the way he scrubbed, especially once he started washing it twice a week, told me he loved his mom. I knew, from watching Jerry work, that he would wash the chair for a hundred years, if God would give it to him. I also knew his mom’s cancer was getting worse. But I didn’t know about her fistulae, or what Jerry was up to his elbows in. All I knew was what I saw. 

I saw Jerry in the yard one Tuesday. Since I hadn’t talked to him in a while, I walked over.

“Hey Jerry,” I said. “How’s your mom? You guys hear anything new from the doctors?” 

“Oh, hey,” Jerry said, looking up from the chair. “Hey, you don’t want to get too close. It’s not just soapy water over here.” 

I stopped and waited for him to say something else. Eventually, he stood up and looked at me. 

“It’s all under control over here,” he said. “Thanks.” Jerry looked back toward the house. “I got to get back inside.” He turned and started to roll up the garden hose.

“Here, let me give you a hand with this stuff,” I said. I bent down and reached for the chamois.

“I got it,” Jerry said. He dropped the hose and snatched the chamois. “I got it,” he said again.  “I’ll see you around.”  

I never walked across the street again. I wanted to avoid waking Jerry’s mom, or interrupting what free time Jerry had. All of us kept our distance. And, for his part, Jerry kept to himself. He knew the sight of his mom’s chair, and what her body leaked onto it, was off-putting. Some of the neighbors had tried, right after his mom came home, to ask Jerry about her condition. Maybe it was out of respect for his mom’s privacy, or out of fear, or maybe he just got sick of us, but Jerry wanted us all to back off. His waves turned into stiff-armed instructions to stay away. He even stopped shopping at the Clintonville Wal-Mart. Tom McNeil said he’d seen Jerry at a Costco in Shawano, with a cart full of bleach and bed sheets. 

“When he saw me he ducked down the beer aisle,” Tom said. “I guess he don’t want to talk.” Without Jerry none of us could know what went on in his house. But we speculated.

“His mom doesn’t wear pants anymore,” Tom said. “She sits in her chair with a sheet over her legs, but she hasn’t worn pants since she’s been home.”  Someone else said that the whole house smelled “like piss and 409,” and that “Jerry ought to send his mom off to a home.” I thought Jerry was doing his damnedest to make a bad situation better. His mom was going to die. Jerry knew it, I knew it, and the rest of the town knew it. But Jerry, the toughest farm boy in Belle Plaine, wasn’t going to let the inevitable get in his way. If I could have sat in the boat with him, I would have told Jerry exactly that: that he was tougher, more sincere, and more patient than me. I would have told Jerry he was better than me. 

But I didn’t tell Jerry that. I was afraid. We had all become terrified of Jerry, his house, and especially his mom and her wheelchair. For us, the presumptively healthy, Jerry’s mom’s chair was everything we didn’t want. It was cancer, old age, dependence. And, in some backwards way, we were afraid those things were contagious. Her wheelchair was death, and Jerry was out there, battling against it, trying to clean it, to keep it serviceable. So we kept away. We whispered to each other over beers or through screen doors, hoping somehow our conjectures might convey our sentiments to Jerry. But none of us spoke to him. 

By July, Jerry was out there twice a day, in old tennis shoes and a hospital gown, with the chair flipped face down in the street. He doused it with Clorox, sprayed the underneath, around the outside, and then dried it off. The natural grace of Jerry’s movements was gone. He had been working against the chair, and against time, for months. But now he looked like it. There was an almost resentful hitch in his stride as he wheeled the chair back into the house. 

“He’s got to be about sick of it by now,” Tom said. He and I were in the back yard, having beers over the fence.

“It’s hard, that’s for sure. But we’d all do the same thing for our moms,” I said. But would we? I wanted to believe it, but I couldn’t be sure. All I knew, all any of us knew, was that Jerry washed his mom’s wheelchair, and whatever else he washed, as often as he had to. He had cut himself off from us, and we, for our mixture of motives, had let him. All we could do for Jerry was hope his mother’s dying didn’t kill him too. 

Jerry’s mom died right before Labor Day. After the funeral, Jerry went fishing. I wanted to go with him, to apologize, for all of us, for not trying harder. I wanted to tell him I cried for his mom. I wanted to tell Jerry Bilinksi he was my friend. But I didn’t. I watched his truck turn onto the service road and out of sight. When he came back, Jerry washed his boat with the same green chamois, the same garden hose, and the same pink towel. He did it every Saturday, until I moved back to Madison. Maybe he still does.   

Friday, April 4, 2014

John Pursch: 7x24x365

She’s young, beautifully innocent, a loving mother of two wonderful kids, and like all of her closest friends, she is a serial killer. These days she murders without even thinking about it. Glass of water, swallow, off to work, home on time, fixing dinner, household chores, a little propaganda, into negligee seduction wrestling husband over the side and off to dreaming. 

Lucidity uncovers the occasional thread of ripened returning consciousness, lured to her frenetic coupling thighs, conceived in this century, hoping for rebirth, but maybe too aware by now of snuffed candelabra syndrome’s symphonic flow of laminar smoke, shunting weary seekers back to holding patterns of elusive red light lookalike conquests, yearning to be held again beyond myopic ritual drain to earthen cesspool tankard nozzle runoff spew of sad mitosis loop.

Myriad unending streams of addled semblances recede, regroup, and storm again, lunging in attempted fusion, without options, focusing on yet another lovely womb, far beyond return to clarity’s simple sanctuary, nodding into diving mode, ascending tubal inner pilot realm, conceptual until conceiving, pleated seams of syphoned identity in merging unanimity, now satiated with the coupling hosts and hoping once again for tensile strength against perennially sloughing walls, to fall in silent agony of multicellular opulence to fetid sacrificial lumber yard of pre-bone staggered homicide’s unconscious motive-free resistance. 

To try again in logjam splendor, crash against a billion seawalls of coupling catastrophic thighs, from early morning sleepless drift to nooners quickening the heat of languid weekend wastage wooed to dinner-movie-orgy clubhouse cataracts of lusty selfish pleasure grafts in quaffs and cackling swallows, across the cratered divide of urban moonscape sapience.

Of course, she cannot kill alone. Her accomplice is equally ignorant and even more responsible for their murderous routine. Worldwide, the death toll racked up by couples like these is far beyond counting, even the estimates are shockingly difficult to compute, let alone fathom; probably in the billions per year, accelerating annually. The guilt is impossible to avoid; we are all involved. Blood is everywhere, the world is softly crying, above and below ground, charnel and carnal. Even those wise enough to stand aside are hip-deep in flowing organs, dismembered torsos, winking heads, clotted ears, matted hair, the detritus of limbs and lost dreams. 

Wars rage on around the globe, waged by millions lucky enough to survive conception’s cutoff, grown to train for weaponized employment’s customary murder role of supported soldier; but these acknowledged killing seas are miniscule specks of blood dwarfed by the flood of casually redirected freshly conceived seekers. The backup in the bardo exceeds imagination, threads are stacked in endless loops of nested consciousness, confused beyond measure. And yet, inertia continues unabated, tidal wash of recombined awareness swimming through the blackness in between to sprawling rows of softly glowing couples going at it ‘round the clock, in hopes of breaking through to rebirth’s gasping breastwork chasm of brutish loutish escapade as newborn human being.

Strangely enough, she is simply a tool, a vehicle for mass murder, backed into a corner and raped by her husband, her lover, confidante, friend, father, random stranger, men everywhere. She is habitually objectified and reduced to a rack of bones, a pleasure platform. She and her sisters are being gangbanged around the clock, 7x24x365, strong-armed into submission, duped and forced to kill their freshly conceived children in the most physically streamlined, painless, and silently insidious way imaginable. If she attempts to object, to shun the daily swallow, she is marginalized at best, tortured and mutilated more often than not. She has virtually no say in her society, no escape from her role. 

Somehow she staggered through the killing wheel only to be reborn as an anonymous spoke, her feet cemented in the bloody hub, her head spun faster and faster, churning centrifugal insanity wrecking her mind, reducing her to a pill-popping sex machine, a slave with no way out but sweetly deferred death. So she closes her eyes to get by as they mount her and demonize her and sodomize themselves, driven by the nut. 

Amid this admittedly stupefying carnage, billions manage to swim through to new embodied birth. Of these, a handful somehow recall or learn or realize a way to sidle off the cluttered highway, to step aside and sit quietly in the empty meadows, forests, and splendid pristine sanctuaries that still remain on this vast, albeit plundered, planet. There they quickly come to see the opportunity that life and death open to the clear light’s omnipresent love and salvation, even while the billions salivate and tear each other to pieces with their hands and teeth.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Donal Mahoney: One Tough Nun

Timmy McGinty had many important teachers over the years but the one who changed his life was Sister Coleman, who taught him in 8th grade back in 1952. She prepared Timmy to thrive in high school and, if a scholarship became available, perhaps in college as well. It's lucky for him she worked so hard because another nun might have given up on him. After all, he was "incorrigible" (according to one of his previous teachers) and the only thing he did well was spell, punctuate, write sentences and compose complete paragraphs. Otherwise, he was fairly useless academically. His main delight was mischief. In that field, he had no peer among his classmates. 

Like many of the 16 nuns housed in the convent near the school, Sister Coleman was an immigrant from Ireland. She had been brought to Chicago, Timmy learned later in life, because she could manage roughhouse children, many of them the offspring of blue-collar immigrants. Couth, you might say, was not rampant among the otherwise decent people in that neighborhood. Fathers worked as laborers, although a few managed to become policemen or firemen. Mothers were homemakers although some took in laundry to make a few dollars.

In the first week of eighth grade, Sister Coleman plucked Timmy out of the last seat in the second row and plopped him in the first seat in the third row. He would spend the entire year in that seat, right under her wolverine gaze. She had sat Timmy there because she suspected he had been rolling marbles down the aisle from his back row seat. As always she was right but Timmy did his best to maintain his innocence.

"Timothy McGinty," Sister bellowed, "that was you, wasn't it, who rolled the marble down the aisle. It had to be you. That marble made a long trip and you were in the last seat in the second row, covered with freckles and full of buncombe. Do you know what buncombe means, Timothy? Well, you will by the time this year is over, let me tell you, and you will be able to spell the word as well."

Timmy denied everything, pointing his finger at Eddie Sheridan, a slight lad who wished he could do some of the things Timmy did but he simply didn't have the nerve. Besides, Eddie was good in math and he spent most of his time working on algebra problems, something no one else in that eighth grade would have touched. 

"I think Eddie Sheridan did it, Sister. I saw his arm move like he was bowling."

Sister took it from there and told Timmy he was not only full of buncombe but balderdash as well and if he didn't start behaving himself and studying hard he would grow up to be a blatherskite always in search of a job.

"I have a brother like you, Timmy, back in Ireland, 40 years old now and still helping out on the farm. My father sometimes says he's not fit to sleep with the pigs but my mother says he certainly is. He's always misbehaving, Timmy. Maybe we can send you over there to help him."

As a penance for his marble escapade, Timmy not only had to sit in front of Sister Coleman but he also had to diagram 30 sentences a night in addition to his regular homework. In fact, Timmy had to diagram 30 sentences a night for the entire year. And these were not "simple sentences." They were "compound sentences" and "compound complex sentences," both of which many of his classmates were not yet ready to diagram. But Timmy McGinty had a way with words and Sister Coleman knew that. As a result, she decided that working with words, perhaps as a writer or editor, might be one of the few ways Timmy could some day earn a living.

Sister Coleman stood right in front of Timmy when she lectured--and she did lecture--and spittle would spray from the gap in her teeth onto his spectacles. Timmy was one of very few boys who wore spectacles in the school, either because myopia was not rampant among the students or because their parents simply never thought about taking their children to an eye doctor.

Timmy got his first pair of glasses in third grade.

"Mom," he said. "I don't want to wear them. Nobody else wears them at school. I'll get in fights."

And sure enough the first three days back in school, Timmy had three fights in the playground as some other boys wanted to see if the glasses had changed him. Maybe he couldn't fight anymore, they thought. But Timmy won all three fights and had to stay after school three nights for "defending himself," as he told his father. Decades later, he could still name the three boys who had accosted him and he would have loved the opportunity to punch them once again, just to clarify that his new glasses had not made him a wimp. 

In fact, Timmy told his wife when he finally turned 80 that he would beat the hell out of those "three curs with his cane" if he could find them. After all, he would never have had to stay after school for three nights if they had left him alone. 

Timmy liked Sister Coleman, despite her discipline, and he liked her even more ten years later when he had earned a master's degree in English, which in 1962 was a respected major that could lead to a good job. English majors were considered trainable in many occupations that did not involve math or science. Often they were put into management trainee slots and primed to run departments and eventually sometimes an entire company. No one knew exactly what English majors knew but most of them could talk and write and seemed to have a good understanding of people.

With his master's degree diploma in a briefcase, Timmy went back to his old grammar school to find Sister Coleman and show her that one of her incorrigibles had accomplished something. But, alas, he was told in polite terms that his favorite sister was in a home in Florida, and she was there not so much because of her age, but for other reasons. They wouldn't tell Timmy the reasons but he summarized the situation for his parents when he visited them.

"I'm afraid Sister Coleman went bonkers and they shipped her out. They should never have let her teach all those years at that school."

Later on, Timmy found on the Internet that Sister Coleman had died but only after she had returned to Ireland and recruited a niece, also a nun, to teach at his old school. Timmy would have bet that the niece was as tough as her aunt. She would have had to be to govern the miscreants in his old school. 

Sister Coleman succeeded with Timmy because she had chosen to teach through and around his behavioral problems. Indeed, Timmy today would probably have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or some other such disease and put in a school offering special education classes. They had no schools like that back when Timmy was in eighth grade. If a kid acted out more than Timmy did, he was sent to military school. Timmy remembers fondly three of his classmates who were taken away and never seen in the neighborhood again. His mother had seen one of them for the last time on her way to Mass on a hot Sunday in July. Bobby was sitting on his front porch eating the night crawlers he and his father were supposed to go fishing with later that day.

"I would never eat night crawlers, Mom. You don't have to worry" is what Timmy told his mother at Sunday dinner. 

Timmy was lucky to have Sister Coleman and the other nuns as his teachers. They knew they were there to turn out children ready to go to high school and perhaps then to college and maybe law school or medical school if scholarships could be found. Those nuns had big plans for their charges because a good education was the only way they as adults would ever find good jobs to raise families of their own. 

As did all the nuns back then, Sister Coleman wore a habit that signaled to all that she was in charge. That didn't mean boys like Timmy always behaved--far from it. But when they got caught, they had no problem accepting the discipline and extra homework that misbehavior incurred. 

"I deserved all the punishment I got," Timmy told his wife many times in their 50 year marriage. "I asked for it and the sisters doled it out. They had to survive, didn't they, even if poor Sister Coleman didn't make it. I wish now I had never rolled that marble down the aisle." 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

John Pursch: Hamsterdamaged

Touched wonderkids crowd the spunlit Dread Light District window sills with hunky hottie bronzed cod bodice fairy tail, sought by pederasts and numismatic journeymen from Coppa Riminme to Palma Dazed Majority’s waxed political cistern of bloated sarcophagi, streaming Hegypped’em hired glyph-itch saleswomen on pedicab inferno trikes and horse-crawl terriers, bleeding sorely wanton festive spittoon contamination burps at grape school pilferers on tranny junkets, carrying impassive locks of dishrag heirloom hauteur into prestidigitation’s nautical shambles of nude preternaturally sympathetic troglodytes on shore leave from the U.S.S.S.S.S.S…S.S.S… Ellipses.

Posturing for pontoon ferry pilots, Hamsterdamaged schoolgirls climb aboard the lucky streetside metal pillars, shining clear smegmatic calling curds of bygone pigeon pachyderms with packaged pudenda, wowing febrile furtive furloughed fondlers with selfsame immolation rites, sending whole tramloads of drooling moldy cuckolds up in charcoal heaps of pyrotechnic spontaneity. 

Bleating copper ash thaw, sorority queens swoop in, walloping the hairless headstone shoulders pressed to Dread Light window dressing’s thousand eyelet overload of purple faction body parts in manacled display stand conquest’s elaboration tonsillitis breath.

Kabuki grins a million gleaming teeth-row hedge semantic raw-truth mottled foolery, addled by mere thought secretion whoop-de-doo of saddle shoes in Flying Touchman catchment sluicing aqueducts of newly piling bile, empirical in colocation seamstress switchyard’s Siamese assembly plant.

“Locking for lung-lost lanky leggings to speed off in feathered reaches, leafy wanderer?” his calm infested deadpan flesh repels halibut the gruel professional hookahs, ant he noses ‘em outa their sidewalk grotto pancake pouts easier than sunrise concurs with matey Massivehippie Rivet’s full reflective slurried face in Lucidana’s Deltoid dawn.

LL-25 just smiles and glitters early morning flashgun lobotic wax pulpit grease-gun wink, pops the trapdoor, deftly swallows Clem from Rotation Alley conveyor belt sidewalk drift to queued confabulatory hustling tank a floor below in musty wading rheumy octane genuflecting mating line. He flakes a number of retroactive shingles for perpendicular analyses, clears the shiny bar, hits disrobing sequence, picked to pickled harpsichord in tonal radiation, standing sodden naked schnockered on pre-shoot forgeries of wiggy highlight mosh pit ketchup-watching zeal.

“Keeps arousal’s plover fetch aggrandized highball statutory pairings, wad with canned stunt pasture raid of plush lobotic beauties, slowly pause here ad my window, shaving trendy fast propels us all from slipshod slow commotion crest to fuel autistic yardarm stupor soar,” Kabuki casual observes to fallow crass mates, encased in traction spume, readied for furious lunch.

Mowing slouch preliminaries, Kabuki stands negated, assembled lung weed endless row of whaling men intent on pure lobotic rust release in servile satisfaction gradient of constant wartime freedom, penultimate grail’s lonely enema retreat. 

LL-25’s atop him now in slo-mo interstitial mound of dueling alligator trappings, blushing matched illegible reducing broth to conned incredulous ingredients of whirled and widening oxen carts in feudal disarray’s engorging postal cramming paginated overflow with hairline whereabouts in dateline giblet chasm hordes of rug burn bliss for natal disregard, inspecting eyelid retinue notation’s frost retrieval, clamoring for pyramidal fiords of clots, orgasmic tone impinging from the cyborg’s missing arse.

And now Kabuki bites the capillary tooth line puncture, swallows hard his time-reversal loop instantiation gel, immediately swivels down with LL-25 to retrogasmic slippage shoot and triggers slo-mo colocation cream to run along her silken floss. 

They’re tumbling off assembly grid to timeline private corridor for extra balls in overtime of unclocked graphical entrancement trip mache. He manages to break off fragmentation tempo blast to leave them stranded then for hours no doubt till daybreak cleanup crew resolves the pyre of paradoxical temporal flak. He’s buried his face where any bile-flooded hulled Americon meal wood instinctively deposit it…

Course there’s shamefully no privacy in this whirled of time drug usury and Clem’s connection’s patently weighted all contingencies for this chance to hijack LL-25 in full erratic undertow for slo-mo interred rotation of her own -- yes her -- drat concocted connection’s mossy defiled at least a she, perhaps a she-bot, nuanced noses scan not hotel mastiff stereotypes or penitentiary tongue nest gyrations in feebly abandoned autistic temptress dirigible divulging sense parades. 

Antler hoot, connected feline time-drag dealer trips a switching spansule, plopping from Waxycan, Days Ago compartment to Dread Light District tryst in heartfelt beat cop flicker, deftly lifts timed frozen LL-25 from Clem’s collapse and takes awash undie wiggled slide, wad weed Clem safely stashed in pauseway pallet term for subliminal sequenced retrieval addled slated crime in slow-culled future.

Sewn from hetero to giggling curls extravaganza, LL-25’s enjoying ivory turnstile hop of turgid torpedo strudel flop this oh-so-fried hurtling morning. Even her lobotic intellect can’t quite parse this newly bound interloper’s secreted identity, though varied notions of self obtain in time drug spheroid entrée sway. Shaven so, tummies shun mired vision’s clod of hindered fistulas and garden variety croutons.

Treason timed rugs are banned from Hamsterdamaged Dread Light auction; whale, eat’s situations chest like dish. Now LL-25’s hashed senselessly outa time, on plausibly one-way bet mossy likely sampling fairy lung drowned-trip ducat through axed seeding leas and sentry seas of Elmo’s spurtingly furtively stun-mop orgasmic and preppily orgiastic delectation. 

Whale chesty shamble a smallish subway shed of her infinite loop, weed fiend of daft hollowing: Myopia’s finest parlance trickles, black through Moldy Groping Umpire’s palatial chattel, streaking pint as Moan d’Aardvark to shaving Hypatia’s lovely flame, teleporting Oleg’s Androidal library to…

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Paul Tristram: A Haberdashery Of Heartache

He stepped quickly in through
the gloomy, creaking shop front door,
leaving the drizzly rain of London’s
‘Bleeding Heart Yard’ behind him.
Removing his battered old trilby hat
he shook it casting little sooty globs
of water down onto the sawdust floor.
He approached the teeth marked counter
and rang the little bronze bell, thrice.
An assistant quickly appeared from behind
a dusty velvet curtained doorway
wearing an apron which was splattered
with blood to the extent that he could have
previously been employed as sidekick
to Him who tore up Lady Elizabeth Hatton.
He adjusted the small round spectacles
upon his long and crooked nose,
scratched at his balding head
whilst pulling a pencil nubbing out
from behind his greasy right ear
(such as the kind you find in a gambling den!)
He tapped the lead against his tongue, twice,
coughed and spoke thus,
“Is the slash & stitching for yourself, sir?
How long was this previous relationship, in years?
Was a wedding band used to bind the contract?
Is the enemy still alive and well or deceased?
Ankle-biters, are there any ankle-biters, sir?
If so how many of them and of what sex
also, is there any fondness for any of them
or are they merely relationship baggage?
Please, don’t look that way, sir, I must ask.
Last but not least, the guilt, there is always guilt,
on this occasion which side of the fence does it lay?”
The patron winced and shuffled uncomfortably
from one foot back and fore to the other,
then spoke his reply in an exhausted drawl
“It would have been thirteen years to this day.
Yes, the messy business is for myself.
There was a brass contractual finger ring
but I spied it in a ‘Leaving Shop’ window
3 streets ago only yesterday morning.
God, did not bless the coupling with children,
but with enough misery to fill the hole instead.
And as for the guilt, well while I do not
have a decent thing to say about her
being a gentleman, I must take responsibility
for letting her into my home to begin with!”
The assistant finished noting this down
and with a frown he spoke again,
“You must not be too hard on yourself,
it speaks for itself that you are stood here
and she is not, sir!
Besides we are not here to judge but to mend
Repairing butchered hearts is our business
and our business is very well and healthy.
It will be a whole 3 banknotes for the operation,
which will take approximately one single hour.
It is indeed your lucky day, sir.
This morning’s work ran rather smoothly,
the first after midday vitals didn’t make it though,
hence the state of my normally spotless apparel.
The lady who was supposed to be up next
and booked her appointed yesterday afternoon
could not wait the 24 hours or so
for we have just been informed that she took
a permanent dip off Shadwell Docks last night.
Which gives us a 2 hour gap until the next one.
The Master is out back smoking his pipe,
if you take a seat, I will give him a shout
and we will both be with you directly, sir!”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

John Pursch: Bridgehead Bardo

Coffin door sucked him down below the streets of Terran Hoax to swirling void of Bridgehead Bardo, where dotted i meets question mark in periodic table rot beneath syntactic shovels.

Chief Amoeba swallowed deeply, marveling at kaleidoscopic nuns and daughters, doctrinaire cadaver schism plushly aligned in serried delight, arrayed in daylight trade wind eulogies for wartime vigilante traitors, bombing ruins into mossy auxiliary holding tanks, twirling threads of consciousness in bleeding collared youth from sudden sod return to womb selection preparation bilge, in gradual emergence beyond embodied separation.

Grappling armless, headless stares to immediacy’s unexpected bliss retainer well of unwalled winking eyeless lust for raw delicious orbit surge, to cram again, autumnal creature drainage down beyond cyclonic cistern garb of spinning limbs or oxen parity or swollen grandeur’s imminent collapse in relapse trough to ego frenzy’s death regard retreating flesh deplaning body’s footstool tendon toehold gripped asunder given way to lossage now supplanting fore and afterimages of plight insightful triage overflowing bliss brain burial.

He sudden gets he’s long been dead no waking wonder left to airborne recompense for weeks no months his ink’s run dry a caravan of chariots from here to hearsay’s fluid plop is easing drifting topsoil soaring now to cloudtop yore in starry vista’s pleasing tremble. 

Chief’s no longer just amoebic cells of wonder ponder interplanetary dustbin clamor’s quantum foam in vacuous congruity remembers childhood premises identifying turnstile love participating fully futile whereabouts unknown to cobbled crude existence theorems differential gape of uncapped gravitational collapse indented crustacean benevolence in torpor’s effusive nodal binge to marital recumbent concurrence in cordial acceptance revealing lost insanity rephrased to squabble cover charge penumbral pond of callow being formed in chaste perdition sending mission orbs obtaining softly drawing curvature implying spine lock.

Musty odor roaming freely captured logjam lungs with millions vying crouching squeezing warmly sweating down the garden pathway’s irresistible drawstring haven motile habit bounced from promissory hovel boom to next door gallivanter’s noontime tryst to midnight backseat stallion mood to foreign film extravaganza’s popcorn lasso lassitude in vernal basement sleeping boggling nascent mind.

He somehow caught successful fleeting weightless lunger hooked in bardo exit red light universal portage back up river implant groaning weighty crooning undetected blissful satisfaction plunged with milled parallels in seeping openings to livid geyser total hourly pipeline screamers preening daydreams bumped about on daily walks to routine job line contrail spew.

If only life could somehow what the evidently knotted flashing bloodline interruption guffaw from crazy wind-torn ambulance slush embossed deranged in unseen lack of intent to fallow throughput’s seasonal ardor cresting mottled million castaways cascading cavitation plumbing poor ciliated dreadnought sluice Aegean seizure balking in the whiny runt canned fusion shoddy tautology weddings rung truth demeaning notary pulpit brothel sideline encapsulating my murder in momentary glimmer backstreet bungling carrion landfill vestige.

Whence again flurry contusions furious cantons culled hides estopped delusions of lighter-than-burial bleatings fleeting mammaries sodden dishrag art fulsome denigration futile revolution heading off unaltered suture lines of usury in illegitimate promise supplants embargoed solecisms grubby drab analytical looping wade this fistula of crowned descent in louvered possibilities of passage blocked to turgid couth returning swooping more enjoined to suffer here in bardo free-fall subway carcass limbo.

Cycle off switch clackety crill influx trample without anything shower shave imbibe rework and weld and gradually believe the bardo routine mythos reel adapting sleep to sloughing off awaking landscape bulkhead dreaming daylight functionary dreading what you came for swapping birth’s dissolving memory elusive consciousness receding in contradicted nightmare of feline puff incinerated drag in lightning swoon illusion death elated to be born from eons.

Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


This tavern invites original and previously unpublished fiction of between 1,500 and 7,500 words.

All bactrians, ghosts and travelers on the Long Silk Road with a story to tell are welcome.

Send a single work per submission as a word attachment in an email addressed to:

See Submission Guidelines for the details.

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