The Bactrian Room

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




Stories for the Long Silk Road

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

John Pursch: She’s Cargo

Lobots copulate twelve at a throw
in shabby She’s Cargo street locales
from slobbered Yeast Side shanty town
to Nord Spore hooker blight contestant-go-fluky
picture of exhibitionist know-how numbnut
parameter pyramid of jelly control plop
to tarts on Ferris wheels shy below spurned
cat-o’-entrails movie deluxe Borax queen
in refutation angst of popped hammerhead circle.

Limbs fly off in window dressing spatter confutation proxy,
daring us to crowbar ribs from rivulets of dead probate
scheme contusion blend, slipping forlorn into time-trap dusk
of seashore aphrodisiac extortion grind to lollipop curls
on redheads lost at seizure’s pendular swoop
of crosstown planetary schism.

“Whoopee!” Clem he shout at nose-blown geyser strike
of blow-by-lobot itch release to salami entrance handyman
galore parade of daring epistemic guard dog troll platoon
in defalcation’s grisly functionary sleaze entombment.

Dozen parolees inundate the frontal odor fire escapee
via hidden halftrack backdoor neckline perpetration hatch,
flooding ontic whereabouts with muddy bootjack cataclysm
hemorrhage of bile-line inguinal incursion limps
in strongly piled circadian torsos, keyed to lowered
basket flecks of cauterized graveyard she-food fare,
canned separately for disheveled ship-to-scorecard
embolism retreat beyond animal crimes.

“Went straight because the causal chops impaired me,
fuel-hide raucous onto roto-tundra umbral ventral sensate
infiltration gauze of cheesy clothesline sex capade
in fecal cavitation socket cordite plume
to aging pterodactyl flight machine, dumbly pounding
balled smack time-groupie phlegm whey behind her
knee-hollow damping site on periscope sighs of landed
signatory waistcoat pillory seduction,”
spews Punky Ankle Anna,
Queen of Registration Globules
Nun Withheld Phlegm Mynah
Blockhouse Pardon Crumbling Swath.

(Lunge tidal surely flour wan off dementia’s flying
as studious asp finery canned sloughed madams,
blown over airy evergreens in softened thuds
of counterpart seclusion hayseed overcome
to needless quay-sag bovine territory spells,
waxing promo flush to boggy lurch
of dried lobotic eyeball crust on
incandescent sunrise baker’s boson.)

“Thet Juan dare be goin’ peduncular!”
gestures Chary Attic Maelstrom Chunky-Chunk-Alike,
Hairy Force Majeure of Slobbered Beast Slide Quotient’s
flexible pummeling yard, blockaded jest sloth
of She’s Cargo’s wurst bane of sallow neighborhood
gazette gazebo quadrant cesspool undertow,
wherein none buddy varied mostly despicable
hand froggily desk-hutch inching pestilential rotifers
and emotive villainy care to proffer their somewhat bruised
bottom-fleecers in courts-o’-pallid barrier quaff-line barkeep
fleabag keg-cracking retrograde to discotechnique blunt enthrall
of slathered cornball mockeries of bobby schlock extraordinary
shy school churlish coffers filling burned saliva into vanities
of fairly haltered tail shod sapientially by leering shoeshine malice
hailstorm queens on streetcar sidebar bridle grease commotion
elocution carts, wheeled sensibly into the dawn.



Saturday, November 22, 2014

Todd Mercer: The Retail Battle of Big Rapids

We can see them coming for us. 

They roar out of the night-dark in their pre-embargo SUVs and their armorized patch-togethers. Hundreds more of those savages are running behind the advancing line of vehicles. They’ve got weapons put together from Lawn & Garden and Hardware: wrought iron pikes, hydraulic nail guns, that kind of thing. We took heavy casualties last month. We’re weak little bitches at the moment. They might have rolled right through and wiped us out this time—and it is still going to be ugly—but we have a chance. An informer who shops both stores tipped us. Thank God. Here’s hoping the informer didn’t tell them a few things too. 

We have the entire road frontage along with part of the flank of the lot edged with six foot picket privacy fencing. Their scouts saw us putting the fencing in, yet they still came. 

“Nick! How many?” calls The Greeter from down on the ground.

I lower my binoculars, lean over the edge of the RV’s roof we use for a lookout post. “It seems like all of them.”

“Well come on then. Let’s get to the fence and see what we can do about it.” Down the ladder quick with my heart in my throat, but I’m not showing my fear. I trained myself to never show fear—I’m a goddamned mail carrier, after all. 

The Greeter’s wheeze is crackling. “This all started with Reaganomics,” he manages to say. “That’s how it all went to shit.”

“Reaganomics? What the hell is that?” 

He knocks his glasses off his nose by accident, and stops us to find them on the asphalt. 

The store goes dark on the inside. Then the parking lot lights are cut too. The Store Manager’s helicopter takes off from the roof, heading wherever all the managers live. Somewhere that isn’t Big Rapids. Which means we are on our own. It’s been a long time since they tried to squelch one of these fights with police. Now it’s will versus will, the people that live in their cars in the WalMart parking lot versus the people that live in their cars in the Meijer parking lot. I hear other towns have the same standoff with at the Target-Depots and AppleShacks. We work at these stores, we live there, we stick together.

“Forget ‘em, these guys are going to slaughter us. Come on.”

“I was going… off shift… in an hour,” he huffs, damned unsuited for these conditions.

“Collect yourself, old man.”

Even before we reach our spot, we hear the staccato thumps of nails impacting the fence fronts. If I wasn’t a mailman, I’d say we’re going down this time.

*         *         *

I used to be Unaffiliated and out of work. I’m not proud to admit this, but I used to shop at a few different places. A long time ago most people did, but now try it and no one trusts you. 

There’s no way I could have been doing as well as now, without the help of The Greeter. Four years ago I parked my old ’23 Buick beater in one of the few spaces that wasn’t claimed long term, and walked in the WalMart with a short list. I hated to leave the car, since I was traveling alone, and—goes without saying these days—everything I owned was in it. You hear what happens to the unattended vehicles of the Unaffiliated.

He was doing his Greeter thing in the front entry when I first saw him, holding his price-coding wand. 

“Welcome to WalMart. Let’s scan that arm, shall we?” 

And of course my data is in there, everyone’s is, but sometimes the whole thing feels inorganic.

I asked, “What if you don’t scan it?”

He looked over the frames of his glasses. “Then you can’t be assigned a price class. You would actually have to pay the whole cost that’s printed on the price tags.”

“Okay. So what?”

“Sir, nobody pays the full tag price. Unheard of. I simply don’t see it here.”

The eroding morality behind the price class system felt too compromising to be complicit in. Not that I hadn’t gone along over and over before. Almost everyone else does. But I couldn’t that once manage it.

The price coding people don’t let it be known, exactly how their structure works. But I know. I have to tell this guy.

“There are at least five discount classes. Maybe six. The first discount goes to the Affiliated. “

“Oh I don’t know about that sir, they don’t call me into the management meetings. Can I help—“

“Another discount class is for those who don’t mind that the goods they buy were made with child labor.”

“Sir, all I do is scan the arm, and tell you where the Housewares are located. I’m not political.”

“Another discount class—“ 

Before I said more the Greeter reached forward abruptly; he put a business card in my hand. Thinking of all the cameras on us, I turned around and went back outside before I looked to see what I had. A card with a name and a number on it, nothing else. I climbed in the Buick and hung shirts over all the windows, and called the number.

It rang twice.

“You want to work for the Vehicle Postal Service?” the woman who answered asked immediately. 

“When can you start?”

“I think you’re mistaken.”

“Did a greeter at our Big Rapids store give you a card?”

“Yes.”

“Are you already with another outfit?”

“Do you mean, am I Affiliated?”

“Are you?”

“Not at the present time. I am considering my options.”

Are you wanted for any felonies or misdemeanors?”

“If you know who you called, you must already know the answer.”

“Okay then. We’ll need you to report to the Receiving Manager, if you’re ready to work today.”

“This doesn’t even make sense.”

“Last chance. I’m busy. Affiliated mail carrier with a free parking spot and some dental coverage, or we’ll call someone else and give it to them. We don’t hire often.

Within minutes I was delivering postcards and enforcing the lot rules. The lot rules part is the hard part.  I don’t even want to talk about that side of it. A week later, I had a regular meal.

*         *         *

In about ’28 the post office changed their longstanding notion of what a legal residence entailed. They started delivery to people whose addresses are vehicles. 

Wherever you go now, you see the same thing—houses stand empty, sometimes blocks of houses, while nearby people live in their rides. Oh, you hear of squatters camping quietly in empty places, but that’s not worth the years of jail time, in my view. 

The surest way to end up locked up as a State guest now is staying Unaffiliated, trying not to pick a team. Don’t get me started on the pathology of the times.

I started out living in rental homes. Then I landed a surprisingly good job and kept it for a long enough to ratchet back my constant background panic.  So I signed a mortgage on a Tudor with shade trees. Three bedrooms. That situation didn’t last. I reverted to renting. Then later—well, I neither bought nor rented. More and more people were getting out of houses. The government gave up trying to save the country from the abyss.

I stopped kidding myself, before the last money was gone. Bought the Buick and improvised.

The day I found a spot in the lot, and a friend in the store, and lucked into the mailman position, that’s the best day I’ve had since the year my family left out on me. After a day like that, the shoulders are a bit squarer. 

You have to make a little stand somewhere. You have to have pride in facing up to life.

*         *         *

The mail arrives at the last bay of the receiving dock, around back of the building on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Management takes pictures of all materials. I sort it, bundle up any company add-ins, and generally by noon start weaving my way through the lot. It can come to a long walk criss-crossing a short distance.

The mailman knows everybody. If I don’t know you and your car is in this lot more than an hour or two, be sure that I’ll find out what you are about. And if you’re wrong, you’re gone. If you’re wrong, I’ll know it when we talk and I look you in the eye. I’ve got a reliable knack.

I don’t put up with serious criminal activity on my lot either. Still, please lock your car when you aren’t in it. I see locks left up and I field theft reports. It keeps happening.

We get by better with diminished expectations. I tell the people in this parking lot to be glad that mail still runs at all. 

There’s an afternoon carrier who delivers to the people busy working first shift inside, the Day stockers and cashiers with preference or seniority. That’s who delivers my mail, if I ever get any. And she did. She did great. Today she brought a letter from my son who I’ve been worrying about for years. First word from him in forever. 

He’s fine, he says. Doing real well. His mother is in Florida with her improved husband. He wants me to know he finished his MBA. He’s going to be one of the managers, live wherever the managers all live. He says, don’t worry, Dad, I’ve got it all figured out.

I can’t say why I’m crying and smiling both.

*         *         *

The expectations: try to carve out a life and a space to live it. You go ahead and dare to experience love for other human beings, and keep yourself on the best path that’s open. Even doing right, some night ‘They’ may come for you. I know how it got this bad, but not what to do to make it better. For a few years the ’They’ of concern were the police, always coming, carrying people away from their families. Now it’s the other poor folks. We’re divided into tribes, and we’re at each other’s throats. 
In this town, I’m afraid they‘re hungrier than we are. 

They’re here, looks like all of them. Vehicles grouped in a tight wedge, they hit our barricades a few dozen yards down, accelerating to at least fifty or sixty miles an hour. Fencing and plywood fly backwards, skitter down the pavement, letting them on in. 

They hate us deep, they won’t show mercy.

The Greeter turns his back to the section we’re braced behind, the one other vehicles are almost upon. 

“Run!” he shouts at me, “Save yourself!” He pushes me back in the direction of the store. Before I don’t see the old man anymore, he’s standing there in his blue vest, which will surely catch him negative special attention, somebody’s grandpa who had to return to the workplace.

There’s a flare overhead. For a moment the area around us is day-bright. I see the lettering where his name tag reads, “Todd Mercer.” He’s smiling and waving at those Meijer bastards over the fence, doing his job, Greeting. He calls out, “Welcome to WalMart! Can I help you fiiiiiiinnndd anything?” when they bear down and roll right over the top of him.

It’s heartbreaking, but even so, someone’s bound to live through this attack who resides in one of these cars out here and is praying for a Greeter job. 

I’m sprinting faster than the Canadians did, back when we invaded them. I don’t care if you think I’m a coward—I’ve got mail to deliver tomorrow, assuming there’s anyone here left to receive mail. If you ever luck into a quality job like that, you keep it ‘til they bury you. That will happen soon enough, don’t help them do it to you.

Fuck those guys. We still have the lowest goddamn prices in Osceola County. 



TODD MERCER won the first Woodstock Writers Festival’s Flash Fiction contest. His chapbook, Box of Echoes, won the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press contest and his digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance, is forthcoming from RHP Books. Mercer's poetry and fiction appear in Apocrypha & Abstractions, Blink Ink, Blue Collar Review, The Camel Saloon, Camroc Press Review, Cease, Cows, Cheap Pop, Dunes Review, East Coast Literary Review, Eunoia Review, Falling Star, 50-Word Stories, The Fib Review, Gravel, The Lake, The Legendary, Main Street Rag Anthologies, Melancholy Hyperbole, Misty Mountain Review, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, theNewer York, One Sentence Poems, Postcard Poems and Prose, Postcard Shorts, Right Hand Pointing, River Lit, The Second Hump, and Spartan.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

John Pursch: Buncle Slim

“I what plump fergot to warsh off the ink
from muh stumpie hafta-go-lurchy peninsular spoutin’ pin,”
chuckled H. Prerogatory Q. Nappie O’Wrangler the Pith,
fifteenth Earl of Shampooed Hamwitch,
Deaconate of the Touchy Toupee of Norse Umbrian Flaregun.

He smoked long and lean bicuspid fillings
of juiced encaustic tonic notary pulp city
flagon destruction compartment moths,
what flipped their mythologically impacted wings
from mating rituals known clear across Louvered Swobodia
for their grout-wrenching performance narratives
of bulimic sod and tarts in disrepair,
flung from torn fishnet undergarments
outa store-bought frontier delusions,
pasted to your brainpan by emerald daydreams
of popcorn movie head and stick-figurine incendiary
plow horse blowtorch defibrillation,
courting debilitated deputies
of Pyre Sighland lug-alike canned detestation,
clear from Sloshing Foam, P.C.
to Scuppered Downhome Outhouse Pisregard
(piling place of D.T. Ponereport,
dirtiest sniveling whore genital contrail remover
ever found in the heinous annals of twirled hysterical sunsets,
steered navel-wide from pluperfectionist magisterium
to bailiff broadsides fired county cluck-wise
in bullfrog buttress imitation’s filial possum
of ostrich custard election know-how).

Show me how far we’ve come
from umpteen umbrella shots in Pealing Drama, Taxes,
you syrupy sudsy slurper of deep-fired
slattern-crookin’ creek-bred rusty Aphasians,
plied what with plopped cycle breasts milked by
inert shoddy lop-of-the-two-piece
boardroom snooker jock set,
imploding hourly on chunnels ground
to clockwork Styrofoam pajama spurts,
confronted belles o’ battling bleeding litigants
he daubed with heisted creepy cradlers
from hovering hilltop feudal larders,
fueled to foveal floating rotation bilge,
sloshing over the wobbling epiglottal eyesore
of precedents becalmed to rows of stimulated sheet petal Sundays.

Datelines glide to comely home front stowaway illusion meals,
accepting ptomaine heat erasure by the handyman’s
expressly mobbed contusion grease fanatic semblance,
propped in worrisome decibel emotion proxy snooze belief
for gulch-cowing cooler chatter,
recollected sideways by Buncle Slim,
Carbuncular Capsizer of Defenestrated Tailors
Swirled Canticle-wide and Chopped Sousa Doozy
Infant’s Peduncular Nerdly Emblem Grazer.

Slim what shot up add mirely demotion’s causal mannequin
of his churlish dame’s devotional membrane and claimed
in terrified desultory infusion breath:

“Who’d savory grafted android rights
of wayward billowing Beluga breast
inspection torts to anyone,
ladder lonely slum underfed corpse
of inclined planet placard plaque
derision numbnut criminologist
wud you mired obey pee-cullin’ year shelf
in mah courtyard gloomy vestibule,
figurin’ tea cup a pleasant spleef afore ya mentioned
the hummed hymnal intentionals
of smugly played imbibement daze
gone festerin’ likely into puissant comedy of terriers?”

Wheedle know,
this candle figure eight o’ nine trailing tongueless crab tree,
ferried along the groin grain gloss of homespun chattel pie
by anyone but Buncle Slim,
whale eet waddled nut fairly furor than say a gantry mire
before laughing in sway bar munificence
to country island lug nut slake,
contested sliding follicle delusion
set to porous gravy overshirt of dung
in fair heathered henna implants.

Showering humps every switched day
from cylindrical nightstand sloop
to jib to jabbering spinnaker buboes,
the crowded Doctor Mastiff staggered outa timed machinery’s
pubescent portal chest into naked timesheet numbing gents,
kneed ‘em to submissive postulates
of Oilskids Reproductive Surgery Repair Service
(manned by one furious rattler biding nautical
his shipping gyration’s motivated clime),
and cobbled two gasping thunderheaded blonde rodeo queens
to form the next great preener of shore
and screaming sliver of screen shot chunky flesh
to salivate a dousing seizure’s pinochle entendre,
planting the Americon phlag, all plastic and purple,
from middle C to lower intestinal bucolic rage,
right in the rectilinear rectal mulch of down-and-shouted
towny frowsy whorehouse continuity’s newly elected
Precedent Hearball O’Bunky,
worldly peasant extraordinaire,
founder of most android nude colonial pederasty societies
on cheesebag planetary discursive entrails
strewn atop the Asstoroidal Bleat,
flaunting Dearth’s mythical prowess,
full candy canard petroleum petard infarction dog,
just tarrying to stultify Chupacabra Peter’s frozen waistline
into mordant extraluminal humping oblation.


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 http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/whiteskybooks. His recently released experimental lit-rap video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l33aUs7obVc. He’s @johnpursch on Twitter and john.pursch on Facebook.

Donal Mahoney: The Button Workers

Since the United Nations passed the Universal Right to Work Law in 2093, Skewer International has brought back from other planets thousands of migrant workers on its company spaceship.

On the last trip, Manfred, an interloper, somehow boarded the ship even though he lacks one of the prerequisites for a United Nations green card--namely, a button in his navel that can be turned off to prevent him from speaking. 

The navel button is a requirement of companies on Earth for any interplanetary worker. Manfred talked incessantly while the company pilot flew from planet to planet taking on board hundreds of other migrant workers, all equipped with navel buttons. His job was to bring them back to Earth to work in potato fields all over the world.

"Manfred, will you please quiet down," Wally, the pilot, said. "You're keeping the others awake and it's tough on my concentration. There are lots of planets and I wouldn't want to land on one that has no workers waiting to get on board. I'd waste a lot of fuel taking off again." 

"I'll do the best I can," Manfred said. "I never got a navel button like the others so it's hard for me to keep quiet. But I'm a darn good worker. All I want is a chance."

The United Nations' version of a "green card" allows migrants to work in any nation. Talkative Manfred is unaware that he will be sent home on the next spaceship that leaves Earth to pick up more workers. Once he has a navel button installed, he can apply again to come back to Earth for a job.

"No navel button, no job," Wally whispered to himself. "A long day's journey into plight."

In 2093, the demand for button workers continues to grow among farmers in the United States, Italy, China, Tajikistan, Moldova and Belarus. Other countries are expected to begin hiring them as well. 

The workers are valued by institutional farmers because migrants don't complain about working conditions or low salaries the way domestic workers often do. And the button workers don't need health insurance or retirement benefits. If a button worker gets sick, he or she goes back to the home planet on the next spaceship. And when they are too old to work, it's back to the home planet as well. 

"They're always surprised," Wally thought to himself, "when they get sick or old and home they go, the same way they came. It saves companies a lot of money. If they die in the fields, however, they're put on a company pyre. It's a cookout, as one manager calls it."

At the present time button workers, no matter the nation in which they work, do only one kind of labor. They plant and harvest Yukon Gold potatoes 12 hours a day. During their workday, they have their navel buttons turned on so they can say yes to the foremen on horses overseeing their work and giving directions.

"Let's get a move on" is typically what workers hear from foremen. And they respond by working faster. Domestic workers don't respond like that. They're apt to protest, maybe even picket. And pickets around the potato fields won't get the Yukon Golds planted or harvested. The button workers can be counted on to get the job done. They have no idea what "unions" were before legislation led to their disintegration.

At night, with their buttons turned off, the workers head back to their sheds for a bowl of cabbage soup before they bunk down for the night. Libations are limited to water. On Sundays, each worker gets two bowls of cabbage soup and a Pecan Sandy cookie.

Monday through Saturday, reveille sounds at 4 a.m. when the foremen on horses blow trumpets, ready to lead the button workers back to the fields.

"Let's go, you buttons," the foremen yell between blasts on their trumpets. "The potatoes are calling."

Research is under way at several universities to fabricate navel buttons for domestic workers who perhaps can then be hired to work in the fields. The media remains critical of industry because the unemployment rate is so high among domestic workers. 

But, currently, domestic workers are not an attractive pool from which to seek new employees because of the tumult created for many years by fast-food workers seeking a living wage. Their wages have never gone up but the workers now get an extra sandwich for every 8 hours they work. 

"Some of them are barely skilled enough," complained one company president, "to put a pickle slice on a hamburger, never mind adding condiments as well."

Industry predicts that eventually farmers from every nation on Earth will hire interplanetary button workers and that they will soon work in factories as well. Manufacturing jobs will then be brought back to the land of the free and the home of the button worker. 

Stock Market savants say the Dow Jones average will rise dramatically as a result. What more could anyone want in a free market economy.



Friday, August 29, 2014

Anuradha Bhattacharyya: BIG MAX

Som did not know how to go about it. He left it to chance. He came across Nalini as a witty, willful girl and he was afraid that it would be difficult to steer things round to his way. However, one day, he extended his friendship to her and the next day he asked her out for a walk. In this way the two of them became palls. But Som wanted more …

Early one evening, as the two of them walked aimlessly in the crowded streets of Kolkata, their conversation turns from books to themselves. Nalini says,

See he’s wearing the same T-shirt. Som smiles, she continues,

No, the collar is just your opposite.

Som laughs, Ya, mine’s pink.

Where are you taking me?

To Big Max.

You’ll get to see the cell-phone-girl? They laugh,

May be your Xavarian will be in there too.

What was he like? I mean, how tall. Did he have a beard?

He looked like he didn’t shave that day.

So you won’t know him if he shaves.

I don’t care, says Nalini with a toss of her head.

I wonder what he wanted. Probably lying about himself.

I was wary.

Ya, you should be careful.

At that time I was literally praying that you’d come out.

What’s my coming out got to do with it?

Why, he’d at least shut up then. After receiving no reply from Som, who was concentrating on the street, she says,

But he did mention Gaurav.

Said he knew him.

Wanted him. So I asked him to go to the college. What could I do if he wanted a book from Gaurav?

But he didn’t move.

What’s wrong today? There’s another copy.

What copy?

Your.

That’s a pink one, isn’t it?

It’s faded.

Both of them fall silent. The busses make it hard for them to hear each other. They shout at the top of their voices confident that no one but they could hear what they were saying. But by now they had covered more than four kilometers after leaving the bus. Nalini was getting tired. Som was also breathless; he is barely audible when he says,

Shall we go there?

I was thinking something.

What?

Something. Nalini giggles.

Hm?

They were also wearing the same pink and white stripes, even the jeans, but you look most handsome.

Uh uh.

They laugh loudly, almost forcefully.

Why?

Why what?

Why?

Come this way.

Hold my hand.

Kid.

And you are my uncle.

Uncle?

Hold my hand!

This girl.

Okay brother. Now hold.

Don’t you think one can tell by the way we walk …

That we’re not brother and sister? Our faces don’t match.

Som remains quiet. He was thinking hard. She continues,

That’s why I said uncle!

I can’t look an uncle.

Even an infant can be an uncle.

No, I am an uncle but I don’t look …

You look my brother?

Not really. By the way we walk … don’t you think … we look different?

They turn into a side street which she can’t recognize. She looks up at him and asks,

We are not going to Big Max? They were nowhere near Big Max, the famous restaurant on Palk Street in Kolkata.

No. I said we’ll go to that place.

You said Big Max!

Initially I said that, but I told you when we turned this way.

You tell half the things to yourself. Now tell me: where are we going? We’ve been walking too long already. I’m tired.

You get tired very soon, don’t you?

I don’t have your long legs.

I wish you had more stamina.

Your hands are very spongy.

Spongy?

Chubby.

Soft, Som corrects her.

There’s too much flesh, red flesh. I haven’t touched such a fleshy hand before.

Not mine before?

I mean except yours.

See, I’m a soft man.

In palmistry …

Damn your palmistry.

No no, listen first.

It says flabby palms are a sign of deceptive character.

Oh?

Yes. Contact with you will be disastrous for me.

For once – it is right. Saying this, he laughs without laughter in his heart. His heart squirms.

It doesn’t say that!

It says I’m deceptive.

Yes. Like you haven’t told me where we’re going.

You’ll see.

She is pretty. He sees Nalini looking at a girl wearing black.

Hm? Nice legs.

Go after her.

He laughs again with an effort and says, For once …

Now she looks up at his face and turns pale. She does not laugh. He continues,

So? For once you’ve shown correct sense. Shall I go after her?

Go. And after a while she adds,

I know.

What?

Your company is disastrous to me.

I’m dangerous! D A N G E R O U S !

It was a long silence before Som resumes,

Anyway. He can see Nalini thoughtful. Then she says,

I think that man is the same one.

Who?

There, speaking on the phone. I think he’s the same one.

Which one? That’s an older man, out there. That one?

No-o not the Xavarian. That’s the one who talked to me in the BCL.

You never told me about him.

I forgot. He came up to me and asked for the book I was holding. Almost snatched.

Why did you let him?!

I didn’t! He asked, ‘are you taking it?’ I said, ‘yes, I think so’ and held on to it. But he almost snatched it and had a look inside.

You.

The book. It was The Heart of Darkness and he asked if I was in M.A. English. I said ‘what are you in’ without answering and he said research in something and got away. Didn’t I do the right thing?

You should be careful.

I think I must wear faded dresses and put oil in my hair.

He looks much older. Probably lied to you.

Maybe it’s not the same man. I didn’t even look at his face.

Hah !?

Som can’t tell what she was thinking, but he finds that she has screwed up her nose and her gait has become slower. He turns round the next bend and waits for her to catch up with him. Then she says with a forced smile,

I’m getting scared of everybody.

Including me?

Uh, except you.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Suvojit Banerjee and Sheikha A.: The Crimson Tiding.

They ignored the sign when a great famine ravaged the earth, and a great war tarnished whatever was left of humanity. Amidst the crimson tide and gray skies, befell the third prophecy - death, the third horseman rode through. And along came his army of undead.

A few of the remaining houses still stood lined like brave soldiers in a once thriving boulevard now desiccated to a thin spray of embers. The horseman of the army wore no mask, and neither did the rest. On his shoulders gloated a large, bone-mass of merciless veneer as he turned to Pestilence hanging in a far corner of the dominion, hands bound like a prisoner walking the revived march of a resurrection he was once meant to initiate.

One of the houses flickered precariously, the light inside gasping for life, giving the appearance of a soldier ungiving to impending death until a ray of promise for continuance cued. Inside, a soldier did breathe. Her dark eyes projected through the window by the front door. The night could not be denser than the darkness in her eyes but there was a glint, of resilience, that shown visibly through.

Pestilence knew those eyes well. He had looked into them and through them into another world he imagined existed but wasn't allowed entry. He had been created from a different element altogether, pre-tailored for predestined tasks. It was her eyes that had roused a sensation in him he wasn't familiar with; now knowing was an urge to flout the predefined.

Since time immemorial our manuscripts and arcane texts had predicted the end of days, alerting us with the signs when the seven seals would be broken. A day of cataclysm, when heaven’s wrath and hell’s terror would engulf the human kind: but we were too ignorant. When the first signs appeared – we failed to pay heed. The Great War ravaging the lands were dismissed as acts of human greed, and the devastating famine afterwards was called an aftermath by the pundits.

Then on a day when the sun lashed crimson-red rays onto the barren land, the third prophecy manifested itself. Ancient tomes said he rode a pale horse whose hooves were as ominous to vigor as a hawk to mice. But here, beneath the soigné cut-suit and a glass of chardonnay in hand, Death looked more like a businessman out on a trip.

“I’m utterly bored. Looks like War and Famine had a field day.”
He lowered his sunglasses, and took a sip from the glass, looking at his watch.

Behind him, armies of undead continued sapping the lives of the remaining souls. A few faint screams were heard at a distance, but apart from that, the living did not resist. Death was like a saving grace for them, and they embraced him with open arms.

She watched, as the insidious talons of Death clawed at all living matter not unknowing that the eyes of the rider of the pale horse bore her with a foreboding. She knew they were coming for her. Her eyes travelled the trails of the massacre as far and wide her vision would enable. Gifts of clairvoyance unassisted by a greater power to leash such rampant carnage seemed futile to her, this moment, as she felt her frail cage of an earthly body, which had been a keeper for a fierce empathy for humankind, begin to dysfunction.

In Death’s queue, she desperately sought Pestilence. Her body crumbling rapidly as her eyes darted and careened through the army that stood not far from her house. The cage that held her fragile frame, in this world, shed off of her spirit as did leaves from their branches in jilting winter. Pestilence was her rescue. Eyes in which she had witnessed a softening for the eccentric principles he initially reckoned as weak morals of a decrepit land, those for which she saw, in his eyes, an acceptance, if not readily, but with steady inclination. Those eyes, she had also begun to realise, were missing.

She continued to dissipate, until only her essence remained. Casting away the cloak of a weak vessel she wore, she was now reinstated to her primal, feral self. Akin in appearance to the bone-masses approaching her, bare in true form, compassion began eroding what otherwise had held her petite earthly face as eyes -  they gouged  invertedly as if a different entity sucked them in from the inside as fodder or feast, relishing it as if having long awaited this resurrection.

There was not going to be a Resurrection – a Convention, yes. She was to unite – with Pestilence and save mankind.

As she watched the army inching towards her house, through menacing cavities that now formed her eyes, the ground underneath crippled away into the chasms of a deathless death, a death she’d been visited by once before, she knew it was time. She only had to get to Pestilence. And order would restore.      

The sand appeared a faulty red; almost mirroring the scarlet shades of a poseur sky. The war had initiated. The war was fought. But the war hadn’t ended.  Bodies were now historic remnants of souls without abodes to go to – no traces of posterity, the earth and sky were now beyond distinction. All that remained was a gathering of mist.

The council was too buried in enjoying the destruction that their henchmen brought upon mankind. Dressed in glorious golden and murderous red, they gorged on the visceral scenery that the big portal presented in front of them. While the metallic smells of rivers of blood were giving their minds lascivious wings, one of the minions cried out: “Sir, Pestilence hasn’t yet completed his course!”

“Silence!” One of the councilmen snapped, “He will show up soon! Do not interfere!” And the minion disappeared into one corner and melted with the pillars.

Amidst the ruins of a massive city, a lanky young man slowly moved about. His eyes were two shiny marbles of emerald, and with them he scrutinized every corner of the dying conurbation. The poisonous footsteps irradiated the earth whenever they fell on it, and the hideous plague flowed from his hands in a serpentine line of dazzling, sparkling green smoke. There was a neigh in the background. Stirred, he looked back. The majestic white stead with the same emerald eyes as his stood there, hooving the ground. “Looks like we’ve been summoned”, the man said, and smiled. He rode the horse and disappeared through the outskirts of the city.

She stood before them, unarmed and reneged. Her body had dilapidated but grazes of her empathy that clung to her like war-bruises glowed strongly through her torn skin. She still awaited Pestilence – before these men, her strength crumbling, but with determined intent.

“I want Pestilence!” She screamed with the last bits of accumulated strength.

For a moment, there was a smirk in their faces. Then, a demonic hiss released through War’s closed jaw. The hollows of his eyes flared as he roared, “Pestilence!”

The rumble of dead leaves gave way to a whirlwind of green and black, and when the dust settled the lanky man with green eyes was standing in front of her, looking at the defiance of a mortal. He had been thinking about the visions: that the future would be written by not man, not angels, not demons, but by an alliance; and that he was chosen.

He was looking at the other piece of the puzzle, but he did not know how to put them together.

“What now?” He said, and looked at the rest of his brothers.

They were looking at her. When Pestilence looked at her a second time, he saw something no human had ever done in front of the horsemen of apocalypse.

She was smiling.



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Anuradha Bhattacharyya: Hey Swamiji !

There was a time when the Ganga waters were effluent. The river tore down bridges, pebbled ridges and cemented borders. She was furious during the monsoons and angry during winter. In the region of the foothills of the Himalayas all the towns were crowded with temples and tourist spots that were watered by the Ganga.

The river Ganga has been controlled and guarded by the authorities so as to minimize life risks for the tourists. Still once in a blue moon someone may be heard to have lost a dear one in these waters. The stream flows swiftly by a natural downward slope and carries away all the things that are daily dropped into the water. People drop all sorts of things into the river and watch them disappear under water immediately. If a body dropped into the river like a thing it would disappear equally swiftly.

Once, on the banks of the river near the Lakshman Jhula, a family spread out its picnic basket. It was a family from Haridwar. There were indeed two families, one of a brother and the other of his sister. There were four children and four adults. They were oblivious of the fate that was about to gust out their enjoyment. But I’ll talk about that later.

Chintoo and Mintoo were two brothers of about twelve years in age. Their uncle lived in Haridwar. Ever so often they visited his place. In October,  during the Diwali vacations, the days were pleasant and in the evening there was a cool breeze that refreshed them. They preferred to stay out late in the evening and take a stroll hand in hand with their cousins in the crowded market to look at the fancy items in display. Their uncle also took them out to Mansa Devi temple riding on a tonga.

The ropeway to the Mansa Devi temple was a familiar ride for them. They enjoyed it every time they came to Haridwar. They looked forward to the day when they would be grown up enough to be able to go up to the summit of the hill on foot. On top of the hill they found a viewpoint with a telescope which they would invariably peep through. They quarreled with each other to decide who would be the first to view through it. They loved the garden on the terrace, and at times when it rained they loved to get drenched, howsoever their mother protested that they might catch flu.

Their reckless manner made their father swear every time that he would not bring them to Haridwar again. But each year, after several phone calls from their cousins who were more or less of the same age, they boarded the bus from Delhi to Haridwar and reached their uncle’s house during a break from school.

The last time, in May, when they came to Haridwar, they had visited Mansa Devi temple again. After that they took a bus to Rishikesh. There on the ghats they sat in the evening dangling their naked legs. After the Sandhya Arati of Goddess Ganga, they went into the ashram.

In the ashram, out of curiosity, their uncle took the children to a swamiji. He showed swamiji each boy’s palms. All the four boys sat cross-legged in front of the swamiji. The swamiji insisted on seeing both the palms of the boys. One by one they held out their palms together open in front of him. He did not touch any one. He did not bend forward with a lens to magnify the lines. He did not wrinkle up his eyes to tell what he saw in their palms. The light from the bulb hanging from the ceiling was adequate for him to foresee the future of each boy.

To Mintoo, he said that he would grow up to be a big officer. He would have only daughters and no son. But one of his daughters would eventually make him proud.

To Babloo, he said that he should be a good son and obey his parents. To his parents he said that they should be considerate towards Babloo’s feelings and never force him to do anything against his will. They found the instructions contradictory so they asked, “Swamiji, Will Babloo do well in studies?” At Babloo’s age no one thinks of anything but studies. The Swamiji took the hint and decided to drop the topic of his marriage and assured the parents that Babloo was very intelligent and diligent in his studies.

To Chhotu, Swamiji said, “What do you want to do in life, Bachcha?” Chhotu promptly said, “I love painting!” This annoyed the parents and they clicked their tongues. Swamiji turned to them and said, “Don’t be annoyed at his childish wish. He will grow up to wish many more things in the world and all his wishes would be fulfilled. Did you understand Bachcha? All your wishes would come true!” At this Chhotu got up with satisfaction spread all over his face and Chintoo took his position before the Swamiji. Chhotu’s parents quietly made up their minds that they would teach their child what to wish for.

Swamiji looked at Chintoo’s palms and said, “You are a very naughty boy. You are always up to some mischief. You should be more careful otherwise you are likely to bring grief to your parents.” Hearing this admonition Chintoo meekly said, “Yes Swamiji”. His mother complained, “Chintoo eats a lot of sweetmeats, I don’t know what to do with him!” Swamiji kept silent.

That October, all of them decided to go on a picnic to the Lakshman Jhula. It was a pleasant time of the year. While in the sun they did not need to carry any sweaters. And the sun did not hurt either. Babloo and Chhotu carried along playing cards and Chinese Checkers to play on the picnic spot. When they reached there, they spread out their mats and according to their plan, they took out the games. But Mintoo was too eager to touch the water. His father tried to stop him but when he did not listen and started running towards the water’s edge, the father asked the elder boy, Chintoo to go after him. Now both the boys started playing with the waters of the river.

They were throwing mud into the water and fetching soiled flowers out of the water. They squatted next to the edge and used sticks to catch floating objects. The father saw their huddled backs and fumed. After calling at them a couple of times, Mintoo turned his head and shouted, “We are not coming back!” At this the father rose threateningly and both the boys dashed towards a boulder near the edge of the water. They climbed up the boulder and teased their father. Chintoo stood up straight on the boulder and waved his hands. It infuriated the father and he stepped forward. As he did so, Chintoo lost his balance and fell behind the boulder.

No one could see him at once. Mintoo called out his name and climbed off the boulder. The others saw that he was shouting at the river. They rushed towards him. Mintoo said that Chintoo had fallen straight into the water.

There were others in the picnic spot. They had all gathered together to look into the water. A local youth had plunged into the river to save the boy, but the fact was that no one could see him. No one could even see his body.

The authorities sent a search party into the river. They showed the aggrieved family to a shelter. In the shelter, among others, there was a swamiji. The drowned boy’s mother rushed towards him and threw herself at his feet. She cried, “Swamiji, please assure me that my son would be found! Swamiji, please give back my son!”

Swamiji was startled. He had no powers. He did not even know how to read palms. He was a mere ascetic who wandered from place to place in search of inner peace. Being accosted by an aggrieved mother, he could not do anything; nor did he snatch away his feet from her grasp. He found everyone staring at him expectantly. He wondered what would be a suitable reply to this bereaved group. The rest of the people had to be impressed too.

“My child, your son’s body would be found if he died before four o’clock. The holy Ganga takes away only the purest of souls; be assured that your son has gone straight to heaven.”

Everyone checked the time.


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
circumambulations;
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 http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/whiteskybooks. His recently released experimental lit-rap video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l33aUs7obVc. 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?
Twelve.
This is it.
Voila, at last!
How far will you go?
To Jaipur. I am coming from Gangtok. Straight.
pause
And you?
Hm?
You’ll go to Jaipur?
Ya.
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?
Yes.
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…
What?
The one sitting behind you…
Hm?
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.

pause

Are you sleepy?
No.
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?
Civil.
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?
Dehradun.
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?
Pinky.
Surname?
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?
pause
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…
pause
Maybe she has … somebody else …
What!
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!
pause
Have you told anyone?
No.
Has she any close friends you can talk to?
No.
Then?
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.
pause
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?
Where?
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?
No.
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!
pause
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!
Who?
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.
Why?
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?
No.

After this I dared not ask for her phone number.


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

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