The Bactrian Room

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

Stories for the Long Silk Road

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 entrĂ©e 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.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Donal Mahoney: Going Bananas

One of many problems Marjorie has had in life is poor banana management. She has always purchased too many bananas and half of them rot on her kitchen table before she can eat them. Only fruit flies in summer prompt her to throw the rotten ones out. But since she hates to throw anything away, there are bananas, in different places, all over the house. 

This is not the kind of problem a renowned artist like Marjorie should have. Not only are her paintings on display at major modern art museums but she also holds a doctorate with high honors in philosophy from Yale. She is an accomplished woman, still attractive despite the passing years, the kind of woman a distinguished widower might turn to for companionship after a graceful mourning period had been observed. 

Banana management, however, is not Marjorie's only problem in the real world, as she calls life outside her studio and classroom. Marjorie also has a problem putting gas in her car. Putting the hose in the tank evokes thoughts of rape, even though she herself has never come close to being raped.

After many years Marjorie knows certain things are too much for her. Banana management and filling gas tanks are but a few of the many things she fears. These things, however, continue to grow in number and threaten her mental and emotional balance in a serious way. 

She knows she needs professional help but has yet to pick a therapist to consult. In a small university town, everyone knows everyone. Marjorie is a respected woman as indeed she deserves to be. No one, except for me, has any notion of her problem.

I know about the problem because she explained it to me at great length one day in the break room. We have been teaching at the same small but prestigious university for many years. Although in different disciplines, we know something about each other's work and often talk about our experiences, both good and bad. 

As a zoologist, I work with hamsters, and for the last decade that work has been rewarding but at the same time very frustrating and I have shared my frustrations with Marjorie many times. She is a good listener.

She know that hamsters do well on a treadmill but otherwise there's no predicting what they may do. And there's no shortage of them, either, in my laboratory. I have cages and cages of them. They reproduce almost as fast as the rabbits I worked with in preparing my dissertation. 

I am no longer involved with rabbits, however, since losing my position at another university when an animal shelter came to my laboratory and took my rabbits away. Hamsters have been the focus of my research since finishing my doctorate. So far no one has called an animal shelter to check on my hamsters but the cost of food alone is killing me. 

With regard to Marjorie, however, I suppose one reason she took me into her confidence is that decades ago we had courted and even talked of marriage. No wedding came to pass, however. Marjorie never married and I married someone else a few years later. Marjorie didn't seem to mind.

I listened carefully to everything Marjorie had to say that day in the break room. I knew about her banana management problem but her gas tank situation was new to me. After bringing her up to date on my hamster research, I thought it might help if I told Marjorie that Pablo Picasso once said "there is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality."

I suggested to Marjorie that Picasso's idea, properly applied, might help her adjust to things in the real world. I suggested that she reverse his approach and deal with things first in the abstract--as a philosopher to get to the essence of things that bother her. And then as an artist she might commit those same things to canvas in a way she would not find intimidating. The process might help her, I said, come to grips with things as they are and not as she now found them to be. Perhaps she could remove the terror involved in throwing out rotten bananas. 

For example, she might start with green bananas, first in the abstract and then on canvas, and then graduate to bananas rotting on her kitchen table. I did not tell her, however, that decades ago when we were talking about marriage the reason I backed out was her ineptitude in banana management. Dinner at her house was intolerable immersed as I found myself in the stench of bananas in various stages of decay. 

I did not tell her either that the woman I married has never once in 40 years let a banana rot in our home. I had told my wife-to-be before we got married that if she wanted to buy bananas, good for her, but not to expect me to provide any help in eating them. I also told her that if I ever saw a banana rotting anywhere in our house I would leave her for another woman, one with no history of eating bananas.

I have had a wonderful marriage. This underscores for me the importance of good banana management in any marriage. Of course, from my point of view, the best banana management is no bananas.

After our talk in the break room, I told Marjorie that if I could be of any help in the future in resolving her difficulties not to hesitate to call on me. After all, she once adopted several of my older hamsters and gave them a home even though I told her they had no history of eating bananas. 

I simply wanted to return the favor and listen to whatever else Marjorie might want to say. After all we have been through together, I might have some insight, however serendipitous, into the problems she is living with on a daily basis. I was there at the start, I reminded her, when the bananas first became a problem.

Marjorie thanked me for my kindness in listening and then asked if I could give her a lift home. She had run out of gas. Her car would be fine in the faculty parking lot, she said, and she would call the auto club tomorrow to bring another can of gas. 

In the meantime, she said it might be nice to make a big bowl of banana pudding. She admitted she always has a taste for banana pudding but usually forgets to make it in time. I said that might be a good idea but politely declined her kind offer to make an extra bowl for me.

Monday, February 3, 2014

John Pursch: Sylvia

She has been in my body now for several years maybe forever and just discovered recently observed in shadow mind yes in neural waypoints of simple ideograms of thought chalice overload pouring vestibules to glimpse emphatic dawn in hallowed beauty’s malfeasance swoop to world liquid. 

How did she enter unseen voiceless without floorboard creak or hint of daylight pantry bobble capstone greatcoat opening? 

A precipice of merging hair, from auburn sky to beet entendre to backstroke catapult to armchair discourse, undersea ink’s chromatic coma screaming silver yesses and we are running down corridors of brilliant grass on empty stomachs in stigmata overgrowth, eternal emblems of prosaic distress, laughing now a bright yellow cackle ruptures the night, bridging headline pews beyond flickers of cat door ketosis in missing fowl perhaps a wild gazelle flashing half follies into hairline fixtures of her sudden death report to generations barely born, somatic yearlings left to read about water, mighty spans, and frozen flows of pipelined tulip surgery…

The spectacles are off, no tears behind the wooden highlands, shivers all but manifest in cropped cylindrical skullcap semblance of childhood’s interrupted dream compartment canister convolved in floes of oxygen pistons legging out the crunch of gravel courtyard drive-thru contraption shunt. 

We are together early, off and onto intermittently interred blissful slumber’s woolen gasket slightly poised ahead around coronal fusion’s word line cone, spinning tandem overload for all.

“Why?” is tossed away, bobbled to country hills, flipped out speeding windows, splashing passing sky with neon tundra’s guilt guffaw, return embrace, confession’s rented thunderclap often followed deep to fuel line memories of motive habit breathless gusty smile atop her final edgewise page this very week of line feed consequence and burning aloe early morning laundry lamp for infant treason carefully regarded.

And always clocked in droning profusion our numbered daisy wheel emerges glints recedes thought hand eyes touch lapsing into chewed notebooks a fragment digested outline of an inverse profile winking into oblivion.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Laura Stamps: Actually, She’s The Friend Of A Friend Of My Best Friend

“Don’t worry,” he says.  “It’s true.  I’m older than I look.”

How does he know what I’m thinking?

I study his face again, the smiling face of this stranger I’ve just met.

Maybe I missed something. Maybe it’s that odd ruggedness lurking beneath his youthful features, those sharp edges softened by playfulness.  They tug at me.  It’s as if he’s experienced more hardship than he would ever admit.  Although maybe he just did.  Maybe this comment about his age is a confession.

Still, he doesn’t look a day over thirty.

“You can read my thoughts?” I ask.

“No.  It’s your eyes.  They’re very expressive.  You’re easy to read.”

I snort.  “Hardly,” I say, as I begin to gather up the magickal cat toys in my booth.

It’s after six o’clock, and the Mayfest Arts and Crafts Fair is officially closed for the day.  When it’s done, I’m done.

“Are you a Witch, too?” I ask, grabbing the plastic storage tubs hidden beneath my display table.

“Not me.”  He sets the bag of cat toys he just purchased from me in an empty chair.  “But my brother is married to one.”

“Really?”  I fold the tablecloth and tuck it into a tub.  “Who is your brother?”

“Drayton Manigault.”  He turns the display table on its side to collapse the legs.  “He married Sara Gadsden last month.”

I smile.  I guess he was serious about helping me pack up my booth.

“Ah,” I say.  “I heard about that.  Sara and I have mutual friends.”

Laura Stamps is a Pagan novelist and poet living in South Carolina.  Her fiction and poetry have been nominated for seven Pushcarts and published by Texas Review Press, Ninety-Six Press, and McGraw-Hill, among others.  She enjoys creating experimental forms for her prose poems, blurring the line between fiction and poetry.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Deepti Nalavade Mahule: Sailing Away

In the gathering dusk, Shantanu sits on the worn-out back door steps of his uncle’s house, absentmindedly flipping through a book that belongs to his cousin when a familiar voice calls out his name from beyond the compound wall. His best friend Nitin hops off his motorcycle and pushes open the creaking gate. 

“Will it be the last time he comes over like this?” The thought flits through Shantanu’s head.  He hastily brushes it off and smiles up at him. 

Six years ago, it was Nitin who had first approached and befriended Shantanu when he was newly admitted to their school. A poor boy who had recently turned orphan, bounced from one relative to the next until he landed up at a reluctant uncle’s place, Shantanu had found himself adrift in the sea of his uncle’s own four children as well as two other nieces overflowing a single crumbling old house in a town far away from his own. Nitin had saved him from drowning, had pulled him ashore by consoling him when his uncle beat him and everyone else barely even noticed or acknowledged his existence. 

Nitin, who had shared his lunch with him, played with him, invited him home, and lent him school textbooks.  Who taught him to ride a motorbike, introduced him to girls and constantly hung out with him.  Nitin, who had given him someone to call his own when he had absolutely no one else. Now after spending almost every waking hour together through college, he might tear himself away, changing time zones and crossing seas. 

After completing first degrees, both of them had applied for and had been offered jobs in the same company in a neighboring city.  But Nitin had wanted to give higher studies a shot. He had applied to five universities in the U.K., out of which he had received rejections for four of them, much to Shantanu’s relief. They both awaited the arrival of the outcome of the final application with increasing anxiety, wishing for opposite results as each day melted into the next.  

Now Nitin is walking towards Shantanu with a long envelope in his hand.  It might as well be a ticking time bomb that he is bringing towards his best friend’s hammering heart. 

“What have you got there?” Shantanu asks coolly.

“It’s here!” Nitin replies, breaking into an excited grin. “The letter of response from the last remaining university.”

“You haven’t opened it?” He asks Nitin.

“I just picked it up on the way out while coming here.” Nitin replies. Shantanu has a feeling that his friend has waited on purpose to open it in front of him.

“Wish me luck!” Nitin says, carefully tearing open an edge of the envelope and pulling out the document.

Shantanu keeps sitting on the steps, watching Nitin’s face as his eyes hungrily eat up the contents of the letter. The light from a nearby street lamp illuminates his face like a stage and the actors on it – his features - change emotions rapidly from excitement and curiosity to disappointment, then anger and finally sorrow. Shantanu tries to hide a relieved smile as Nitin shakes his head at him. 


He gets up and gently pats Nitin’s shoulder. “It’s alright. We...I mean you already have a great job offer in hand.”

Nitin shrugs. “You are right. What did I expect? Getting into a Masters program at such a prestigious university without prior work experience...”  He still looks crestfallen. 

Shantanu takes the letter from his hand and reads the dry words informing Nitin of his rejection. Beginning to fold the piece of paper in his hands, he starts walking towards the end of the backyard beyond which flows a dirty canal.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Nitin asks him.

“Wait, just watch.” Shantanu says and keeps folding and turning the paper until Nitin can see a boat emerging out of it. Bending over the short wall separating the house from the canal, he drops the paper boat into the water. 

Nitin throws his head back and cackles. “I get it! I get it! You don’t have to be so dramatic!  I’ll let it go.” 

They both laugh together but Shantanu is the loudest as they watch the boat sailing farther away, bobbing up and down over the dark water.

Deepti Nalavade Mahule is a software engineer by profession.  One of her short stories was commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 1999, run by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association.  Others have appeared in Muse India, Six Minute Magazine and Siliconeer.  She blogs at 'Dancing Fingers Singing Keypad' ( 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Michelle D'costa: Memory

His tongue in her mouth felt like an intrusion of privacy. Yet she didn’t mind.

First she let him into her soul. Slow and steady wins the race. Her mother always said. Love need not be rushed. It should be a steady stream not a gushing waterfall if you wanted it to be everlasting and that's what she had wanted- A Happily Ever After Ending.

So Preeti waited like a faithful devotee for her prayer to be answered. She had almost come to believe that she was meant to be alone forever. She had killed her expectations. A slow poisonous death.

But as she closed her eyes all she could see was his face. She had read in romance novels that a kiss could take you to unknown heights. She was flying. Not that she ever flew before to know how it felt. She hadn’t been privileged to be lifted off the ground leaving all her sorrows behind in the land it was born(although temporarily). She had dreamt of flying though. Leaving bits of her dreams suspended in clouds and if God willed they would rain on her someday making them come true.

Every experience has its own ingredients of discovery. No two moments can be paralleled. Nothing in the world could have prepared her for her first kiss.    

Adam knew that Preeti couldn’t forget that moment ever. As he was the first man to kiss her. He knew because he had unlocked her lips full of secrets and her tongue that tasted freedom with the gratitude of a prisoner set free. He was happy to be her rescuer.

It wasn’t his first kiss though but he knew it wasn’t his last. He wanted more. Only from her. He would kiss her on places he knew existed on the female anatomy but was yet to discover for real. He felt her fingers creep into the spaces between his fingers and at that moment he felt complete. Like a scissor is complete only with both blades.

*  *  *

Now he wants her to do the same. He pleads. ‘Hold my hand Preeti. Please.’

But she doesn’t. The events of the night flash before him.

He had decided he would do something special for her. Just to see her smile. Special people deserved special treatment. Not on their birthday or valentine’s.

Any day, every day.

He opened the car door for her. She hesitated. She was chided before for trusting too soon. ‘Can’t we just walk it down?’

He sensed her discomfort. He wanted her to take the ride with him. The car was part of the surprise. But he reminded himself she wasn’t like other girls. To gain her trust in itself was an accomplishment. He wouldn’t dare to jeopardize that.

So he shut the car door and bent his left arm so that she could place her palm in the crook of his arm.
‘Sure ma’am’

She smiled, relieved and held his arm firmly.

They had to cross the road to see the surprise. They had to.

Crossing the road is just one among other routine acts we do without much thought that could prove to be fatal some day.

Routine acts like forgetting to light the gas ring or using the hair dryer in the bathroom or crossing the road.

If only they had taken the car…

*  *  *

Now he held her limp fingers to his tearing eyes. His grip slippery. ‘Please respond darling.’

‘Mr. Adam, you are wasting your time.’, the doctor stood behind him in the dimly lit room.

‘Her brain has severely suffered from the trauma Mr. Adam. She won’t remember anything. Even if she survives, she will just be a vegetable.’

The doctor’s words seemed to be coming from one end of a dark tunnel.

Questions hijacked Adam. His own voice very loud in his ears.

If not for the amnesia post the accident, would she have remembered me forever? Would she have treasured our first kiss? If not for the accident, would she have liked the surprise?

Her reaction will remain a surprise forever. He thought.

No. She will remember. She has to. She will see what I have done for her. And she will love me back. Am I selfish to still expect her to love me?

Isn’t it because of me she’s here in this condition?

If only I had insisted on taking the car.

The beeping of the heart monitor got louder. It reverberated in the small room.

It pierced his thoughts. Brought back to reality he clenched her fingers with all his might. ‘Don’t leave me’

The line on the machine went flat.

Putting full stops to all his old questions and giving birth to new ones.

The doctor reached for his shoulder with one arm and with the other arm he switched off the machine.

‘Whenever you’re ready Mr. Adam’

The silence that followed engulfed Adam.

He longed for the variations in her heart beats.

When the monitor was beeping it had annoyed him but now he knows that that was better than silence. At least it meant that Preeti was around.

He realized how lonely silence could be. She loved to talk. And he loved to listen.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Donal Mahoney: Love and Anger at 80, According to Elmer

When ancient Elmer was young and dashing and on the prowl, he would wait for a phone call about love or anger from someone important to him at the time. Over the years more than a few women had reason to call. Some were happy with Elmer and some were not. 

According to Elmer, more than a few of those women today, five or six decades later, take advantage of the new technology and Google his name in an effort to find him. Many want to confront him for past promises not kept. Some want to see him again if he's single, widowed or divorced. Others just want to see him again, whatever his marital status. 

The vote on him, Elmer says, is split down the middle. He fooled some of the women some of the time but the others never forgot. At age 80 he wishes most of them--but not all of them--would.

"What can I tell you," Elmer says. "Besides drinking, the only thing I was good at in life was talking to women until they caught on. I may be old but I can still talk nice to a lady. I specialize in buncombe and balderdash. But I can't run any more from the angry ones. The legs are gone. 

"And that damn Google can be a real problem. I guess my address and phone number got on the Internet somehow and some ladies who are still able to get around have come looking for me. It's happened more than once. I wouldn't be surprised to answer the door some day and find one of them in an electric wheel chair. But all of them, good and not so good, had energy and spunk."

His many children are now adults, he says, but they wasted his money in college. Instead of applying themselves to their studies, they would wait for an email about love or anger from someone important to them for that semester. The following semester, he says, they would wait for an email from a new love interest. This would go on every semester until they flunked out or managed to graduate. Email in the lives of his children was not a positive thing when they were in college.

"I have 12 kids," Elmer says. "Six have degrees and six flunked out. More of the flunkers have jobs than the graduates. What does that tell you about this economy? And what does that tell you about my kids? The apples, I guess, fell close to the tree."

Elmer also has quite a few grandchildren, most of them adolescents. They waste time in school, he says, waiting for a text message about love or anger from someone important to them for a day or a week or over spring break. Texting is not a good thing, Elmer says, in the lives of his grandchildren. And it won't be a good thing for any of them able to get into college.

"Kids today," he says, "are on a carousel, especially the girls because they trust boys and most teen-age boys are louts. I can tell you that from personal experience because I was a teen-age lout for several wonderful years," Elmer says. 

"As a teen-ager, if I ever told a girl the truth I must have been drinking beer in back of the Masonic Lodge earlier that night. We had no dope back in those days. Never even saw the stuff. Wouldn't touch it if I did. But we drank a lot of beer on the weekends and maybe a little vodka and Squirt on Sundays. After church, of course. Times were different back then. You could meet a lot of nice girls at church." 

Now in his dotage, and feeling the effects in his joints and muscles, Elmer still maintains that love or anger shouldn't arrive by phone, text message or email. It should arrive in person, smiling or spitting with rage. He's had it happen both ways. And he's ready for more if time permits. 

Elmer doesn't have a computer or cell phone so emails and text messages never ruin his day. He has a land-line phone to make outgoing calls but he adjusted it so he cannot hear the ring of incoming calls. He did that two months ago after Bertha, a woman he took to her prom more than 60 years ago, found his phone number on the Internet. She called twice a day for a week until Elmer turned off the ringer, as he calls it. He never turned it back on. Now he calls out once a week for a large meat-lover's pizza and two quarts of beer. He'd make the same order more often, he says, but he has to watch his cholesterol.  

Elmer, however, would not be disturbed if Bertha--or any other woman from his youth--came knocking on his door. He has always believed that love or anger should pound on the door with great emphasis--like the baton of a policeman at midnight yelling the music's too loud, stop the party or everyone's going to jail. 

The pounding would have to be loud enough, Elmer says, for him to hear it--and even louder at night to roust him from his bed in his nightshirt to search for his teeth and toupee before he answered the door. He wouldn't care who's pounding as long as it was love or anger and not some guy in a ball cap selling aluminum siding. 

"Every man, no matter how old, deep in his heart wants to hear one more coo or even a gripe from a woman," Elmer says. "In fact I'd like to hear both before I go--and I won't go quietly--into what Dylan Thomas called that good night. Did you ever read his poems? I did and I thought if I'd had a brother, it should have been Dylan Thomas. Or Salvador Dali. Did you ever see his paintings? I see life the way he painted it. "

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Michelle D'costa: The Escalator

When escalators were first introduced in India, women nagged at its inconvenience. They had to be careful of their saris, heels and children. Ah! Children! Now if only children ranked first on their priority list.

Sheela stood facing the escalator that headed downwards, towards her. Now, was that convenient? Not for the people who were heading her way. They felt conscious. Why was she standing there? Who was she looking for? Who was she looking at? They murmured to their partners. She’s nuts.

Sheela could see her son Gopu taking faltering steps on the top of the escalator. She smiled a smile of a mother seeing her child taking his first steps. And then her eyes glazed over, ‘Nooooo!!!!’

Her blood curdling scream stopped the escalator in its track. But Gopu repeated what he had done that day. Only difference was Sheela watched him do it now, again and again.

She watched as he stumbled for balance. He was in the right direction. He was supposed to come down. Unlike other kids who are blessed with intelligence yet find themselves at the wrong end of the escalator, at the dangerous end.

Despite being in the right direction, he slipped. Her Gopu. Yes he did. If only she had noticed in time.

And tumbled. And then. Only then had Sheela turned around and noticed that her son was missing.

How ironical life is? The whole process began so gruellingly slow. From conception to gestation to childbirth. But death came without that wait. So sudden. At least for Gopu it did. Not that a death which is asked for is less painful. Death is like whisper only meant for the dying but arouses curiosity of the survivors.

As if Gopu was conjured from thin air. No he wasn’t. He was her flesh. He had her eyes. Too big for his face. She could see only innocence in them. His admiration for her sparkling in the drool which escaped his lopsided mouth. No one knew his smile like she did.

She had prayed so much for a child, for Gopu. Why then did God give her a child if he had to take him away anyway? That is if God exists.

People say, ‘Don’t be sad for it is over. Be happy for it happened.’

Move on. Two simple words, Sheela told herself every day since Gopu…

But how could she have been so careless? Sheela asked herself again.

When she knew he wasn’t like other kids. That he was special. That he couldn’t handle himself. But could any kid of that age? Even a normal one?

And now he was tumbling and coming towards her.

She stretched out her arms.

‘Come to mama, boy! Come!’

Yes he had heard her. He came forward hugging her. Pushing her. Handcuffing her.

‘Ma’am we cannot allow you to scare our customers away. Please go where you belong.’

The guard saying ‘please’ a little too reluctantly when he actually felt like screaming back at her ‘Go to an asylum you bitch! You will get me fired’.

She stood fixed to the spot. In her past or present? No one could say.

The people descending the escalator stared at her terrified.

‘Ma’am no one will come to our mall if you continue your drama. Please go home.’, he managed in a low tone again.

Home…It rang a bell..

‘Yes, I must go home. I must. Gopu must be waiting for me. I had put him to sleep. I told him I’ll be going to the mall. He must be awake now.’, Sheela stuttered.

But her legs didn’t move. Her mind did. To what? Home?

Of course not! Home was home sweet home before Gopu…

Her mind slowly crawling, creeping up the escalator against the tide until it reached the top and there was Gopu.

Taking his faltering steps all over again. His eyes pleading her to end it all once and for all. To take him home.

Author Bio: Michelle loves to write. You can follow her work here

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shane L. Coffey: No Small Parts...

Derek had been acting strange for weeks.  Nick had been sure his friend was getting in over his head with something, and secretly he'd been glad.  The balance-sheets and quarterly statements all ran together, blurring through his weary brain ten and twelve hours a day.  The rest he spent dreaming, praying for a single moment of significance in a life of trivia.

When he'd seen Derek heading for such a dangerous part of town, he'd been sure the younger man needed help and told himself, by way of justification, that going to the police might get Derek into serious trouble.  What he'd just seen, however, made it clear that it wasn't Derek who was in over his head.

“What are you doing down here?  Are you trying to get yourself killed!?” Derek asked.  The night air was chilly and damp with drizzle and the wind coming off the docks.  A dozen hired thugs lay around him, some groaning, others unconscious.

“H...How did you do that?” Nick stammered.

Derek hesitated.

“How did you do that!?” Nick repeated, more forcefully.

“I just reacted,” Derek finally replied.  “We gotta get outta here before more goons show up.”

“He shot you!” Nick shouted, pointing at one of the unconscious men.

“Quiet!” Derek hissed.  “And don't talk crazy; I'm fine.”

Unconvinced, Nick reached out and stuck his finger through the hole in Derek's coat, poking the spot on his ribs where the bullet-hole ought to have been.

Derek moved away quickly, covering the spot with his hand and turning toward the city lights.  “Come on!” he repeated, not looking back.  Nick still stood amid the defeated gang, stunned.

Suddenly the sound of a revving engine growled out as rain pelted down harder, breaking up the image of headlights swinging into view.  Derek continued moving away, but Nick froze, just in time for a black SUV to screech to a stop in front of him.  Derek watched, hidden and unmoving, as men in hoods roughly seized his friend and dragged him into the back seat, restraining and gagging him with duct tape before pulling a bag down over his head.

Nick cursed himself vehemently as he fought to get his breathing under control.  He'd been so sure he'd found his moment, but now he was the helpless prisoner and his friend, it seemed, was some kind of super hero.

Finally the long ride ended, and Nick was dumped unceremoniously onto a concrete floor.

“Is this the guy?” a heavy voice asked.

“Took out a dozen of the Caprese's best fighters without so much as a mark on him.  It's gotta be.”

“Take the hood off,” the first voice said again.

The bag was pulled away, revealing only more darkness and five or six even darker silhouettes.

“I'm Sean O'Sullivan,” the voice continued, “and you're havin' of a skillset that seems right useful.  So, the proposition's a simple...”

Suddenly a skylight shattered overhead, and a heavy form fell on O'Sullivan, slamming him to the ground.  Shots rang out, but if they hit anything, they did no harm.  A moment later the form became Derek as he deftly dispatched the thugs, then helped Nick to his feet and cut the duct tape binding him.

“Thanks,” Derek said, breathing hard.  “Couldn't have done it without you.”

“How's that?” Nick responded, stunned.  “I wasn't even much of a sidekick.”

“Lousy sidekick,” Derek confirmed.  “Awesome bait.”

Shane L. Coffey is a writer in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Donal Mahoney: Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame

When Danny Murphy was in kindergarten, just about every Saturday afternoon in autumn, he would go down to the basement and listen to the Notre Dame game with his father. That was back in the 1940s when Notre Dame had great teams. Few teams beat Notre Dame back then. 

"How come Notre Dame wins all the time, Dad," little Danny would ask his father.

And the answer was always the same:

"Danny, I think the good Lord keeps an eye out for Notre Dame. Especially when they play Southern Methodist."

All through grammar school and high school, Danny hoped Notre Dame would win every game. But he didn't want to go to school there, despite his father's wishes.

"Notre Dame will make a man out of you, Danny. It'll put hair on your chest."

Instead, Danny wanted to go to a small school, St. Sava College, because he figured it would be easier to get good grades. St. Save was out in farm country, far enough from Chicago to avoid monitoring by his parents but close enough to get home on weekends. Besides, St. Sava had never had a good basketball team. Danny figured he would probably start at guard for St. Sava as a freshman. 

Danny wanted to go to college to play basketball, have a few beers and get grades good enough to get into law school. He figured he would have to study hard once he got into law school so why not have a little fun as an undergraduate. St. Sava, although a small school, had a strong record of placing its students in some fine law schools and medical schools. Danny figured he'd get the necessary grades and then ace the law school entrance exam. But first he wanted to have some fun. 

Things went well for Danny in his freshman and sophomore years at St. Sava, although whenever he came home for a weekend his father would try to talk him into transferring to Notre Dame. 

"With your grades, Danny, you'll get into Notre Dame without a problem," his father kept saying. "A degree from Notre Dame is a ticket to success. It won't stop you from getting into heaven either." 

Danny not only earned great grades but he averaged more than 20 points a game for the basketball team. Twenty points a game was a good scoring average in 1956. Some kids were still shooting two-handed set shots. Danny had learned the jump shot in Chicago, playing against older kids and he used it to advantage playing for St. Sava.  

Many of the other kids had come from families whose parents had emigrated from Bohemia and Slovakia. They had been sent to St. Sava to get an education but also to soak up their cultural heritage. Most of the monks who taught at the school were of Slavic ancestry. Some had emigrated from Europe. 

Being of Irish ancestry, Danny needed a little time to get used to the Bohemian and Slovak food served in the cafeteria. He had never eaten lentils and lentils seemed to be on the menu every day fixed one way or another. At least one day a week brown lentils were served alongside breaded "mystery meat," as it was known to many students. It took Danny a while to figure out that the "mystery meat" was breaded eggplant served in a preparation that was a mainstay in Bohemia and Slovakia. It wasn't that bad once Danny got used to it. 

The summer after his sophomore year Danny decided to stay on campus and work in the farm fields for the monks. The pay was poor but with free room and board, how could he go wrong? He'd have money to go to town and have a few beers some nights and a chance to read novels and poetry on other nights. An English major, he had to keep reading to get a head start on the syllabi for courses he would take in his junior year.

Then one hot August afternoon Brother Raphael came down the row of corn to tell crouching Danny that Father Bohumil wanted to talk with him in his office. 

"Get a move on, Danny," Brother Vladimir said. He was a man who could do anything with his hands and he didn't trust students, especially those from the city as incompetent in the fields as Danny was. 

"Pull the weeds, Danny, not the carrots" were the first words Danny ever heard from Brother Vladimir.

Danny figured Father Bohumil, Dean of Student Affairs, wanted to discuss some events for the upcoming school year. Danny had been elected vice president of student government so maybe Father wanted his help on some project. So Danny washed up and headed for Fr. Bohumil's office.

"Hello, Father," Danny said as he walked through the office door. "I bet you have big plans for Homecoming already."

But it wasn't Homecoming that Father Bohumil wanted to talk about.

"Danny, we've got a problem. Some student has been sending live chickens and ducks to Dr. Compton. I think you had him for French last year. He lives not far from here and the post office there is loaded with crates of live poultry that he never ordered. He figured some student played a trick on him."

"Well," Danny said, "even if I knew who would did it, it would be hard to tell on him. If the other kids found out, I'd really catch it when they got back to campus."

Father Bohumil then told Danny that Dr. Compton, prior to coming to St. Sava, had worked for the FBI for 20 years doing intelligence work.

"Danny, he called the companies that sent the ducks and chickens and they sent him a copies of the orders. He brought the orders to school and compared the handwriting with his final exams from last year. That's how we found out it was you who ordered the chickens and ducks. He's not a happy man, Danny, and neither are we."

Danny realized immediately his time at St. Sava was limited. He thought he was about to be expelled. But Father Bohumil had other ideas.

"Danny, in your two years here you have been an excellent student, a fine athlete and a student leader. Normally, we would expel someone for doing something like this. But I talked with the abbot and he said to deny you registration for next semester and for every semester after that. You can never come back here, Danny. But at least you can apply elsewhere and know that nothing negative will appear on your record. You still have a chance at having a very good academic career."

Danny was shaking but he thanked Father Bohumil for the leniency. He said he would pack his bags, get a lift into town and take the next train back to Chicago. 

"Stop in the kitchen, Danny," Father Bohumil said, "and the nuns will give you a bag of sandwiches. You might get hungry on the train. I hope things work out for you. Never do anything this stupid again."

Danny apologized again and headed for the kitchen for his sandwiches. It wouldn't take long to pack. But it would be long ride home. And what would he tell his parents, especially his father? That was the question. 

Danny got home around supper time. His mother had put together a big feed of corned beef and cabbage for his father's 50th birthday. But first his father wanted to know why Danny had come home in the middle of the week.

"Well, Dad, I've been thinking it over and I think you were right all along. I want to transfer to Notre Dame. I should have gone there in the first place. A degree from Notre Dame will get me into law school anywhere."

"Now you're talking, son," his father said. 

His mother had little to say, She was busy dishing up the steaming corned beef and cabbage. It turned out to be a great meal what with Danny's father congratulating his son every bite or two about transferring to Notre Dame.

After dessert, Danny promised to call the registrar at Notre Dame the next day to start the paperwork for his transfer. There was less than a month left before the new school year would start. And Danny wanted to be on campus, sitting in the stands with his father and watching Notre Dame pound the daylights out of Purdue. 

Later on, before he went to bed, Danny told his mother he might try out for the basketball team at Notre Dame if his courses weren't too hard.

"Good luck," his mother said without looking up from her knitting.  

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.

The Bactrian Room is published under the auspices of The Camel Saloon and the citizenship of Poets Democracy.

The Bactrian's Pages

Listed at Duotrope

The road to the Saloon


Search This Blog


Notice of Copyrights

Original material on this site is copyrighted by the authors and artists. No material may be copied or reused without the permission of the respective author or artist.