by Brian Bahouth
Listen to the author read his short story:
Martin pressed his hands deep into the cracks of his car’s upholstery searching for something like an earring or a used packet of personal lubricant that may have been inadvertently left behind. He had to pick up his wife at the airport in two hours so he furiously scrubbed the hand-sized, milk-white stain on his cloth front seat with a toothbrush and a little lemon water and was just about to vacuum the spot dry when his neighbor, Randy, said, “Yo, Martin …”
Martin lurched and hit the back of his head on the car ceiling as he stood and quickly positioned himself so Randy couldn’t see the front seat.
Randy said, “So you been watching what’s going on next door?”
“What’s going on next door?” Martin asked.
Randy looked around to see if anyone was in earshot.
“What’s going on?” he said.
“Have you seen Dave lately?”
Martin pointed at the adjacent bungalow with his head and said, “That Dave?”
Randy shook his head yes, and Martin thought for a second and said, “I really don’t pay too much attention … but now that you mention it, I haven’t smelled that diesel truck in a while… what about it?”
“What about it?” Randy whispered.
“For one thing, his wife Meghan is literally nine months pregnant, and the morning after they threw a huge baby shower last weekend, Dave and all his stuff totally disappeared… just like that,” he snapped his fingers. “I’m talking motorcycle, truck, riding lawnmower, everything that had anything to do with Dave except his dog … why do you suppose he left the dog?” Randy asked.
Martin worried that the stain on his seat would dry and leave an even bigger mark. He began to tell Randy that he had to pick up his wife from the airport in a half an hour, but Randy interrupted as if Martin had not been speaking.
“I can feel it, Marty,” he said. “Dave ain’t coming back.”
Martin noticed for the first time that Randy whitened his teeth.
“I don’t know,” Martin said. “Maybe he’s in the National Guard or something and they shipped him off to Afghanistan … what does it matter?”
“Afghanistan? Are you kidding me… c’mon, Marty… you know why he left.”
Martin squinted to fend off anger and, despite himself, began to create a sordid story to explain what Randy had observed.
“I can see onto their deck from my back yard,” Randy said. “Between you and me, a lot of shit has gone down in that hot tub, if you know what I’m saying.”
Martin imagined his young metrosexual neighbor, Meghan, with someone other than her husband in the hot tub making a love baby. Then he visualized the contortions of Dave’s face as he read the lab results showing that he was not the father of Meghan’s baby. In Martin’s burgeoning story, Dave threatened violence and Meghan hid at her mother’s house while Dave took everything but the dog and disappeared forever. As Martin imagined the divorce settlement, Meghan’s black SUV disrupted his fantasy and wobbled to a stop ten feet from his car in the driveway next door.
Randy and Martin stopped talking and watched while she and her distended belly slowly emerged and she stood on the far side of the car. Pink helium balloons crowded the back seat. Her purse was fancy and big and seemed a heavy weight on her arm. Martin raised his hand and smiled, and Meghan nodded back, their typical anonymous exchange, but this time Martin studied her more carefully than ever before and could see that her immaculate hairdo and power suit were completely detached from her swollen breasts and knotted expression, a helmet and rattling armor on something shaky and pale.
She used her chin to balance arms full of boxes wrapped in pink paper. With red ribbons clutched in her left hand, the balloons floated in front of her eyes. Martin held his breath when her spiky heels sank into the lawn and she staggered to the right and the left, balloons bouncing lightly off her face until she stepped onto the cement walkway and paused. Randy stepped quickly around the car and walked toward her with arms extended and said, “Here, let me help you with those.”
Martin noted that their faces almost touched as she handed him the packages. Randy followed her closely up the short set of stairs onto the porch. He inhaled through his nose and could almost taste her body odor through a light, organic perfume. His scalp and ears flushed while she rummaged her bag for the keys. From across the driveway Martin noted Randy’s new redness and attentive posture of willing obedience.
Dave’s Labrador retriever barked and scratched to get out, and when she opened the door the dog jumped up and put its paws on her chest, and in a step backwards into Randy she let go of the ribbons with a laugh, and a half dozen balloons floated into the sky. Martin watched Randy inspect Meghan’s neck while she looked up at the balloons. Meghan smiled and Martin realized her teeth were whitened too.
As Martin had feared, while he was making up stories about his neighbor, the stain on his seat had dried. He looked at his watch and then dipped his toothbrush into a bucket of lemon-scented water and rubbed the stain in a tight, circular motion.
Brian Bahouth is a longtime public radio reporter, on-air host and short story writer. I also produce My Audio Universe a literary magazine of sound in conjunction with KVMR Nevada City/Sacramento, CA.
photo courtesy of Michael Gwyther-Jones
by Neil Uzzell
One time on Halloween, I heard Allen was having a party. All the kids at school were talking about it.
“I’m going to wear the new Victoria Secret line,” Christy Scott said.
Just the thought of her wearing anything that had lace on it was enough to get me standing up straight, and it would have been okay if Mr. Mercer hadn’t called on me, pointing to a “solve for X” problem I could have done in my sleep.
“The answer is the square root of twenty one,” I said.
“Why don’t you come up to the board and show us how you got that answer?”
“Would it be okay if I just told you how to do it from my seat?”
“Don’t be so modest, James. You’re one of the few people in my class who can pull an answer like that out of your head. Come up here and take a little bit of the credit for it.”
“I’d really rather not, sir.”
I squirmed around in my seat a little bit and managed to get my wiener pointing straight up. I stood cautiously and walked stiffly up to the board. It only took me fifteen seconds to complete the problem, but during that time I could feel myself slipping out of stealth mode and onto the left hand side of enemy radar.
It wasn’t that obvious, but it might have been visible to the trained eye. Fortunately, I still had my back to the classroom. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as deft with my left hand. I would have to be pretty discreet if I was going to pocket pull it back into place without being obvious. As soon as I set the chalk down, I jammed my hand into my pocket and jimmy rigged myself. I think maybe that girl Tina in the front row might have noticed, but she was too shy to say anything.
“Excellent work, James,” Mr. Mercer said.
Everything was going to be okay. I was going to make it back to my seat undetected. I had even started to think about Christy in her lingerie again, when I stumbled over a strategically placed foot. My lurch forward dislodged my wiener from its hiding place. I tried to walk, leaning into it to cover it up, but that only made it more obvious. Still, it probably would have been okay if I hadn’t had to sit down behind Christy Scott.
“Eew,” she said, and got up out of her seat.
“Ms. Scott, have a seat, please.”
“That little sicko’s got a boner!” she said.
“Ms. Scott, just have a seat, please.”
“I don’t want to sit down with that little weirdo pointing at me.”
Everyone laughed again, except Mr. Mercer.
“Good Lord, Christy. If you are really going to make such a big deal out of something so small, I’ll move you.”
This sent the classroom spiraling out of control.
Neil Uzzell is an MFA in Writing graduate from California College of the Arts. He teaches, lives, writes, and plays the guitar in Oakland.
photo by Rob Ireton
by Molly Kat
She tries to level with the word, tries to define it, tries to find a way for it to fit into her; a way to not be so broken or a way to make broken beautiful again. Today it was spelled across her forehead, carved in big red bleeding letters. Today the sky fell around her and everyone else scratched it up to rain. Today the world ended all over her, and she was stuck in one of those dreams where you can’t scream, because screaming for no reason means you’re insane… but she has a reason. It means your body is stolen. It means everything you in the book of everything that ever was disappears and is replaced with something foreign and horrible and guilty and the only synonym is theft. Only theft doesn’t cover the heartbroken, and heartbroken is too cliché, and the word just doesn’t fit, like her skin no longer fits, like the clothes start to grow baggy, and it’s weight loss and identity loss and “how can I cover up a body that’s been broken into?” The birds fly overhead and she can’t tell if they’re vultures or doves, and by birds I mean men, and by men I mean shadow-boxers. She may never be post trauma. She may never ride the fourteen alone at midnight again. She may never get past the first letter. She sits down at the solid oak table. No. She sits down on her bed. No, she doesn’t have a bed, or a solid oak table, or any furniture at all. Nothing in her life is that stable or comfortable, and she sleeps on a foam square on the floor. She sits in the dark, by the glowing screen of her dying laptop, and hopes the outlet splitter from the dollar store doesn’t start smoking until after she’s gotten this down. She writes “in April of 2005 my body was a crime scene.” She writes “in May of 2008 my body was a crime scene.” She writes, “the summer of 2011 my body is my body, my body is not my fault, my body is brown sugar, my body is burning. My body is a fist. I have never thrown the first punch. My body has never learned how to block.” She writes, “I am too much surface area, too much wind, and so much sun.” She writes, “the West Coast is burning.” She is spit and wildfire. She wears a moonstone on her middle finger for every time she was offered a diamond. She writes “colder than the dead body in the east river.” She writes, “more hallow than the well that runs dry to the center of the earth.” She writes “dear Matt. I cut my legs open with a piece of broken glass. I thought you had left something inside me. My veins burned heavy with the lead of a story I didn’t dare to look in the eyes; I rained so hard I put myself out. Dear Matt. I lay down on the double yellow lines on Lexington Avenue, not far from your house. I wanted you to finish the job. I carried the corpse of a seventeen year old inside my lungs for three years. The first time I breathed it happened again. Dear Matt, the world is a white circus tent collapsing.” She sits in the top room of City Lights Café opening books to smell their spine. She cries because there’s still something beautiful about her. She can feel it. She cries because he saw it. She cries because the world is small and painful and beautiful and she can’t pretend there’s anything more than the fights on the back of the bus. Three men followed her from the bus stop and she didn’t go for her knife, she didn’t go for the pepper spray. She went for the double yellows; she ran. She slammed the gate, locked the door, trembled up the stairs and collapsed on the foam square. She could still feel you around her neck. She writes, “the hardest part is that I’m supposed to be the victim, and I feel so much like the attacker.” She writes, “I miss the wrought iron of your smile.” She writes, “the hardest part is that the idea of being raped turns me on.”
Molly Kat is a graduate student at Binghamton University studying American Literature and Literary Theory. She has had work published in Muzzle Magazine, Pedastal Magazine, Ragazine, and several print anthologies and other literary magazines. She has work forthcoming in Foothill Poetry Journal as well as Corvus.
photo by Barnaby_S
by Molly Kat
The violence enacted on her body has solidified into coal, collected between her lungs, and sits growing hard and dense, trying with all its might to produce a diamond. The hands she loved and the hands she has never met turn into a big lead anchor. Her face is carved of knotted white rope. When the wind blows, the wet coils pull taut against the steal of her jawbone and moan in agony. They twist and cry out into the cold salt water. The ocean doesn’t move. Energy moves, waves move, but the water stays still, stays shrieking at the cuffs of her sleeves, stays static and impartial. She relies on this. Her insides ride the crest of a wave and are covered in foam. Her face is carved out of diamond. Her name sounds like a man’s sob. Her eyes reflect nothing but the cold dead mouths of volcanoes. She has been reduced to ash. She used to be so much fire. She is stolen by suicide the way most young girls are stolen by love. She is singing by the wayside. She wants the hem of her skirt to come undone. She doesn’t want the centuries of corsets to bind her to her hated body. She is imprisoned in the wretchedness of the news corporate media refuses to tell. The bodies pile up, become the known tissue of the hated body. She is nothing but tissue. Sinew, snapping under the violence of memory, of melody, her harmony begs to be forgotten. Sometimes, when she walks down the avenues in alphabet city, the click of her heels and the swish of wiper blades and the squeal of brakes make music, a deafening music, a familiar music. She has her pepper spray and her switchblade but it isn’t revenge she’s after. She walks slower, then faster, then hops or jumps or skips and the city scowls at her cacophony, at her defiance. She finds the pawn shop she’s been after and asks for the sharpest teeth, a guttural moan, three 45caliber bullets, and an old sail. She stops at the door, stares at the sun beaming out from behind dissolving clouds and mumbles inaudibly, “not today, there is god today. I have to wait for it to rain.”
Molly Kat is a graduate student at Binghamton University studying American Literature and Literary Theory. She has had work published in Muzzle Magazine, Pedastal Magazine, Ragazine, and several print anthologies and other literary magazines. She has work forthcoming in Foothill Poetry Journal as well as Corvus.
photo by Phil NZ
by Jason Schenheit
What was supposed to be a little tizzy with the chaps turned in to a god dammed frenzy. Now to that effect, I’m not one with a jest for the imagination, but be aware that your trusting little friend and story teller has been drinking, smoking, and cavorting with all I’ve known, the messed and downtrodden. By way of Jackson St, I’ve walked myself from my digs,downtown, south towards the bridge and it’s junction with Stover St.,on the way to the community college, Go You East Everett Avengers! A twenty minute walk, past the brick bottom high rise apartments, past the new commercial spaces with their visible red painted metal beams, past the Mommies Morning Yoga, past the three major coffee chains and the five local ones, past Ebert’s Sherbet who’s cross-street is McMichael’s, past the stuccoed High, plastered Middle, and trailered Elementary schools, past the tree lined dog park on Trinity Way, past the neo-classical condo-complex trying to butt up family style against the river, and over the walking bridge, adjacent to the cars’ bridge that crosses the river.Smells like piss, but only after my chums and I started the trend of pissing off the bridge in to the river. The August afternoon is sticky, and my shirt and my skin are becoming one, so I peel the cotton off, the sun warming my tanned and tired pores, and the on looking mommy strollers can turn their eyes all they want. They might know what we did, a couple of pals, roommates, Avenger cohorts, Dash and Quest.But the town doesn’t say shit, they never do, and the Jakes, those Everett cops, we think they know too, everyone just looks past me and mine right in to nothing, the town, in to their strollers, always away from us. Sometimes, when we go in to bars or Claire’s Dinner off Jackson, the counter people always dock a few dollars or crack us some free cold ones or gives us a pie and three clean forks.
Six months back the LocalObserver’s front pages went from suicide to murder, because Ol’ Ricky was found bumping head first in to the bridge’s icytower foundation in beat with the unfrozecurrent, and the town was still at ease.No one cares about a dead racist. At least not in East Everett. Where there was no room for something so old. Overlooked because Ol’ Ricky LaVarve was a crazy bigot.No sooner did you walk past LaVarve and he went off no matter your hue. You see Dash came home hot headed, about’a half a year ago,in middle of winter. Steam was rising, growing from his sweat soaked skull cap. He said, Ol’ Ricky called me’a spic, followed me a good six blocks from the walking bridge up to McMichael’s, whistle’en, sing’en it behind my back, the son of a bitch.Sick of Ol’ Ricky’s tongue,back we went, my chaps and I, to talk some sense in to Ol’ Ricky. Back down by way of Jackson St., from downtown, south towards the bridge and it’s junction with Stover St., on the way to the community college, Go You East Everett Avengers! A twenty minute walk, past the brick bottom high rise apartments, past the new commercial spaces with the red painted metal beams, past the Mommies Morning Yoga, past the three major coffee chains and the five local ones, past Ebert’s Sherbet who’s cross-street is McMichael’s, past the stuccoed High, plastered Middle, and trailered Elementary schools, past the tree lined dog park on Trinity Way, past the neo-classical condo-complex trying to butt up family style against the river, and under the walking bridge, adjacent to the car bridge that crosses the river. The smell like piss coming soon after my chums and I start our trend of pissing off the bridge in to the river. When we, my knuckle rubbing chums and I, got to the underside of the walking bridge, there Ol’ Ricky LaVarve was in his tattered cord jacket, layers of sweatshirts, newspapers and worn knee denims. He was smoking out a GP that was little, hued black and brown. He yelled out, you dinks coming this way,you want to hear the truth, that you’ll be saved, if you let go, let it go, you lil’ spades.We couldn’t speak, we sprang, my pals and I, to head split, rib slit, and knee crunch. We destroyed Ol’ Ricky’s face, smashed in his teeth, his jaw, pulled out his hair, that ripped up scalp by the handful, tore at his cheek ripping open a long smile to the top of his broken jaw,stabbed out his eyes with our fingers, then we stomped in his chest, kicked in his privates, lit his clothes on fire with him still in ’em, and Ol’ Ricky in between gasps of blood, in a damaged, gurgled whisper, do it, do it, you filth, you curses, kick’n my head, but we, my leg and arm grabbing chums and I, carried Ol’ Ricky back up on to the walking bridge, lifted his dead weight, and shoved him over in to the river. And then we, my lighting up squares, social network and I,started that trend of the smell of piss.
Jason Reinhard Schenheit, is an all sorts writer, and survivor living in San Francisco. After his service in the US Marine Corps he has gone on to become MFA candidate at San Francisco State University, where he works as the Managing Editor of Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review, and co-coordinates the VelRo reading series. Outside of SFSU, he is an editor and webmaster for thegorillapress.com an online journal representing young talent throughout the US. His most recent work can be found in sparkle + blink.
photo by MA1216
by Adam “Bucho” Rodenberg
In an abandoned office building across the street from a café, a man sits patiently at a window, waiting. The room is devoid of furniture, but walls shellacked with weeks-old bullet holes surround him. The building is a skeletal carcass of the skirmishes that have grown in number over the past months.
No one has come to clean the building, nor will they ever. The smart and the fearful have already fled the city. The dumb and the fearless remain, sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes hand in hand. Avarice, vice, persistence, and sometimes the rare bit of true altruism…these are what run the city now. These are what have caused the gaping chasms across the neighborhoods.
Singed papers lay strewn about, tinged with black and faded map-orange along their edges. Light fixtures hang like dead limbs from the ceiling, creaking in the breeze from open windows elsewhere in the shattered office. The smell of concrete and copper permeates the room, but the man doesn’t care. He’s been around more blood than has pooled up and dried on these carpeted floors.
The blinds of the window are pock-marked with holes as well, but still allow a veil of secrecy. A telescope, with microphone attachment stands, pointed down at the café through one of the largest gaps in the abused slats. Wires from the microphone dish spill out onto the floor, coil up and then snake over to a makeshift table where they insert themselves into a lightweight, but expensive, recording device. The man travels light. At the first sign of a problem, all but the digital camera in his hand and the recorder can be left behind. Take what’s important, leave what’s irrelevant. A thing is a thing and most often replaced, but information is invaluable.
He checks his watch; the client won’t arrive for another half hour, so he gets up and moves around. A chair in the corner lies on its back with cushion stuffing spilling out from the seat. It’s hard to see the dried blood on the seatback against the deep mahogany color, but it’s there in brownish puddle stain. Cloudy daylight spills across the surfaces of broken doors hanging on a single hinge.
On the back wall, a hole slightly larger than his head. It is ringed by paint melt and sludge singe, an imperfect circle that shows him the hallway, the office beyond, and another hallway beyond that. The wall there is blackened and soot-tarnished and he imagines he can smell the screams of whatever rocketed through the clutter.
In the next room over, a corner office missing two walls. There is no sign of any carpet having been here other than the dirt and dust that spirals around in tiny wind devils.
This destruction is the new reality. This is how one comes full circle as long as you can stomach it.
He sits back down near the window and waits.
She used to say that revolution could come from birdsong in the morning, that it could be done through propaganda. She said revolution, more often than not, came from pulling a single metal pin and setting the world on fire for an evening. “Imagine the Earth,” she’d say in that far off voice, as if she were imagining it herself. “Now think about flames licking their way up from the southern hemisphere. Forget how much heat it would actually take to set the South Pole on fire and just picture it burning the world like an old map from the bottom up. Fire brings death, death brings life, and hopefully we get it right the next time around.”
Like most mornings in the city, the day was mausoleum quiet. The random sound of thunder across town never portended rain (which hadn’t come in months), but instead warned of another skirmish somewhere nearby. A car exploding, a firecracker distraction, a gas station imploding from below, a building finally giving way beneath a throttled foundation. Today, however, only the sound of my dress shoes clip-clopping across debris-littered sidewalks and crumbling parkways echoed up and out against the buildings still left standing like half-burned cigarettes. The echo came back sideways and off, sounding strange and screechy against my ears. The sound unnerved me, made my spine tingle improperly and my palms moistened. Just being out in the open made me skittish. Why in the world had I decided to wear a suit today?
Habit, of course. I’m from the old guard. Up until the world had capsized and decided to feed on itself, I remained persistent in being well-groomed and well-dressed. The generations that followed after me had lost that sense of style, that sense of class that men were supposed to carry on their shoulders once they were done making the mistakes of being uneducated adolescents. So much so that even when I had a housekeeper, I would starch and iron my own dress shirts, buff my own shoes at the end of every day, and lint-rolled each suit by hand.
Order. Routine. These things that I depended on became obsolete once the populace revolted against the faceless machine of the city, a machine that I had become a part of over the years. I hadn’t worked so hard for decades only to watch it disintegrate before my eyes, no. Who were they to say that I had been wrong in building up my small empire just because they were incapable of doing the same? Were they lazy? Unintelligent? I don’t know and never truly speculated that deeply on the matter, but I stayed when everyone else left, when they jumped off the sinking ship of commerce and let it rot at the bottom of this concrete ocean I walk across now.
I had a towncar once. And a driver. These were niceties I could afford and I enjoyed them both. I remember when you could actually drive down these streets, when they were clear of stonework and chaos but full of the dirty and unclean, always with their hands out as if I had the power to save them all. By that time, money was irrelevant and people dealt in drugs, death, or information. If you didn’t have one of those, you either left the city or you died beneath its crumbling edifices. I don’t know that I’d ever want to know the true number of the dead hidden under so much rubbled concrete.
I turned a corner and saw the café several blocks down. The wrought-iron furniture out front seemed out of place, cozy and casual, against the backdrop of the crumbling edifices surrounding the shop. I ducked into a darkened doorway and waited, watched, slowed my breathing down to nothing and chameleoned myself against the rough brick wall in the dark. If I had learned one thing over the years, it was that playing the slow game was always the smart bet.
She slalomed the bike quickly through an alleyway, riding away from the explosion behind her. Molls had set the timer wrong, had gotten too antsy to watch something burn as if they’d never have another chance to make that happen. Had she not had her bike, she would have been so much blood and skin pollacked on the wall just like Molls. Stupid, stupid Molls.
The problem with true revolt is that it, too, can be infiltrated by the wrong people. People so hell-bent on ideology that they never see the moment as part of a larger history or take the time to weed out the misinformation from the truth.
This is why she had moved up in the ranks of the faux army; she understood both concepts better than most of the older folks who had been fighting longer, the ones who had lost more than she had ever conceived of losing in her lifetime. While they sat around makeshift barrel fires swapping origin stories and overly biased opinions, she had kept her history quiet. An interloper by their standards, there was no way she would ever earn their respect if they had known about her upbringing, so she remained quiet and loyal. Diligent. Always the first to volunteer as a new angel of death.
They gave her missions, she came back victorious.
They gave her a gun, she came back with an arsenal.
They gave her explosives, she made them bigger and louder.
The thick clinking of metal in her shoulder-bag reminded her to slow down. Full of tweaked grenades acquired in a previous skirmish, it was good that Moll had passed the bag onto her before setting the charge. They were too valuable to have been lost in such a shoddily completed mission. A weapons cache was a hard thing to build up, much less stumble across these days. One only needed to look at the city to see that so many had already been used. How much could be left now?
She had become their scythe-wielder, their black-veiled goddess of the night, their hell on wheels.
She turned down an alleyway and saw part of the café. She stood her bike up next to a demolished trash bin and walked the rest of the way, always looking up and around for trouble as she kicked the rubble out of her path absent-mindedly.
She said she felt dirty here and still did on occasion. “I got used to the money just always being there, being around me. After awhile, even the trees smelled like greed and I had to go. That was when I realized I wanted to do something more than consume for selfish reasons. I want to conceive for selfless reasons now.”
“You just want to watch the world burn.”
“No,” she said. “I want to watch it grow back into something real. I want to take from those that don’t deserve it and put it in the hands of those that do. We stand in the middle of the era of inevitability. This is how things end. This is how it’s supposed to be. This is how things will continue to be until we’ve turned the tide of unreason back into something that works for everyone.”
“And what of the people? You can’t eliminate them all in the name of some abstract cause. You aren’t the only ones with answers.”
“No, but we lack complacency.”
Down at the café, the client arrives and sits at the agreed upon table. It is not so much a café as it is an old bookstore with wrought-iron tables and chairs out front and a barely working coffee machine inside. A meeting place for the wary and the suspicious out in the open, right in the middle of madness. The man sits up, adjusts the microphone and begins snapping pictures. The client wears a suit and nice shoes. A ridiculous outfit considering the setting. He will most likely find himself buried in it, but only because he will most likely die in it.
The girl approaches on a bike from the west. She rides close to the walls in the few shadows that splotch the street. She is smarter than the client in this way. She is dressed to move and move quickly. Even the bike shows better planning than the client’s own desire to walk here on his own.
The man snaps pictures of the girl. He snaps pictures of the client. He puts the digital camera down and takes a bite of the warm sandwich on his lap. A breeze wails through broken windows and fractured blinds, the haunted moan of a dead city and a dying populace.
The girl sits across from the client. A younger man brings them both coffee and scurries back inside the bookstore, shutting the door behind him. They drink. She smiles. The client does not.
The patchy shadows of clouds above the café patio washed her face – first in dark, then in light. It was hard to tell what she was thinking as her smile seemed to change with the elements. She sipped her espresso. I made fun of her for the pinky she always extended when drinking. “An old habit from my younger years,” she’d say, as if protesters and firebugs had no place growing up in the upper echelons of society.
I could feel the coffee thickening against my teeth and immediately wished for a toothbrush. “So what’s in this for you?” I asked quietly.
She set her cup down on the saucer, a sound like heavy coins falling into a glass jar. “I get the notoriety I need, you get an automatic way to make a change. My people will believe they’re making a difference and you get a second chance. It’s a win-win for everyone as long as there’s no one inside when we make our move.” She stared at me, waiting for my eyes to give her the go ahead.
“Will you need my assistance if anything goes awry?”
She shook her head and grinned. “We’ve gotten pretty good at making our own exits. Plus, we don’t want there to be any ties linking us together. A clean break makes for fewer places for them to explore,” she said getting up and grabbing her satchel. “You remember how to leave me the message?” she asked.
I nodded as a camera click-click-clicked from the building across the street. My own quiet insurance plan in case anything happened. I am a businessman after all.
“Until then, I suppose,” she sighed. “Bye, Dad.”
Adam “Bucho” Rodenberg is a novelist graduating from the USF MFA in Writing Program. He welcomes your comments at dj_bucho[at]yahoo.com.
photo by Mark Kelley
by Clyde Liffey
The doorbell’s ring – I didn’t even know it still worked – interrupted what had begun as one of the best afternoons of my life. Karen harrumphed.
“Do you have to answer that?”
The bell rang again, followed by some loud raps on the door.
“I’m afraid so. Besides, I wilted.”
She slowly dismounted, trudged around the room looking for her clothes, disappeared into the bathroom with most of them. I glanced behind the couch: the curtains were only half-closed, they were still at the door. I fumbled for the remote on the end table next to the couch, found it, turned off the football game, and took a swig of beer, warming in its can. Fortunately my pants were still near my feet where I had left them.
Still shirtless I answered the door.
“Who is it?” Karen called from the bathroom.
“I don’t know. Jehovah’s Witnesses, I guess, though I don’t see any Bibles.” The well-scrubbed young men in front of me wore neat V-neck sweaters over their shirts and ties. Each carried some kind of ledger and a stack of pamphlets. The taller of the two – he looked familiar but I couldn’t remember where I saw him before – was looking in the direction of the bathroom.
“We’re here to talk about this Tuesday’s election,” the shorter man said. “May we come in?”
I regarded the disordered clothes scattered about the floor in front of the couch, the empty beer cans strewn near the end tables, the overflowing ashtray on the table nearer the door. I saw a few brown oak leaves, the last of autumn, scudding behind them in my ugly front yard.
“I’m a little indisposed at the moment. We can discuss our business here.” I rested my hand on the doorjamb.
The taller man regained his composure. I noticed they both wore their straight black hair combed back from their pale foreheads.
“We’re here to discuss the election. Our father is running for County Comptroller. As you know our county has run up a sizable debt in the past few years. These pamphlets explain how he’ll implement a plan to reduce that debt and lower your taxes, especially your real estate taxes.”
“I rent this place.”
We were interrupted by Karen’s arrival in the front room. She looked at the taller man, then the shorter. “Mitt? Tim?”
“What kind of name is Mitt?” I asked, trying to recall my disused German.
Karen frowned. “Mitt is short for Mitchell – my maiden name, his middle name.”
“What are you doing here?” Tim asked.
I looked over at Karen and she looked past me to the leaves in the yard.
“Your father spends a lot of time campaigning,” she said. “I got bored one night and went out for a drink.”
Here we go, I thought, and I would have liked to explain how this was my ex-wife’s weekend with the kids, how I met Karen last month at a bar, that sure she was a more than a few years older than me but she was funny and a good lay, but Karen kept on talking.
“I know he’s short and not even good-looking but he’s younger than me, attentive, and,” looking down at me, “he holds out a little longer than –”
“Is this serious?” Mitt, I think, asked.
“Ha! Of course not.” The other one said.
“Our poor dad. He would never.”
Karen narrowed her eyes.
“What about the fundraiser tonight?”
“I have plenty of time to get dolled up if one of you handsome young men will give me a lift.”
“Will he say anything?” Mitt’s jaw indicated me.
Karen placed an affectionate hand on my shoulder. “My John,” I’m not sure why she couldn’t remember my name, “won’t say a word.”
“Of course not.” I shivered as a sudden gust of wind blew some more leaves around the yard.
The boys followed my gaze, reconnoitering the area, wary of photographers or anyone who might recognize their mother. Not likely, I thought, not in my low-rent neighborhood.
Karen gathered her things. She semi-furtively blew me a kiss on her way down the lane.
I peeked at the photo of the happy family on the cover of the top pamphlet.
Clyde Liffey lives near the river.
photo by Bedtime Champ
by Frank Scozzari
“This is Radio Free Kosovo – Your voice of democracy throughout the Balkans. We come to all of thee, from our soul to your soul, for the soul of Kosovo.”
Lieutenant Krisman stared at the small transistor radio sputtering out the fast, high-pitched voice. It sat on a rock in the bright winter sun just beyond the shade of the pine trees. He took one last drag from the cigarette that hung limply from his mouth, shook his head, and flicked the butt at the radio. Turning his eyes back up-canyon, some two hundred yards, he focused on a place between two peaks where a small, white building stood near the top of the ridge. There was a radio tower stretching high above the building into the deep blue Kosovo sky. It was a small, prefabricated steel building, and from this distance it looked like a toy Erector Set.
The two men with him, Bernard, a young Frenchman, and Alec from England, were huddled in the sun trying to stay warm. They had climbed for two hours in the cold before reaching this spot high on the ridge. Despite the crispness of the air, all of them had sweat on their foreheads. Krisman pulled a thermos from his pack, warm with coffee, pressed the edge of it against his cheek, and then drank from it. The radio started crackling again:
“And now a song dedicated to Milosovic, and to all the fine things he’s done for this wonderful land. I’m sure Mick had you mind when he wrote it. Ladies and gentleman, the Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil.”
Lieutenant Krisman looked over at his two men, Bernard and Alec, and they both glanced back from beneath their powder-blue UN helmets.
“Try raising that idiot again,” Krisman said.
Both Bernard and Alec looked at one another.
“Your turn,” said Alec.
“No, your turn,” Bernard came back.
Mumbling obscenities in French, Bernard took hold of the Rascal handheld unit and began to speak into the radio, in French.
“English, damn it,” Krisman said.
Bernard glared up at Lieutenant Krisman, then began speaking in very poor English with a very heavy French accent; “Hey you, crazy American man. You come in.”
“What?” Lieutenant Krisman snapped the Rascal from Bernard’s hand and began to speak into it: “Radio Kosovo. This is Lieutenant Krisman of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force. Please reply.”
There was no answer at first so Krisman repeated the message.
“He’s ignoring us,” Alec said.
Krisman looked up at the building, glistening white in the sunlight, then at the transistor radio sitting on the rock, waiting for a reply. “You are in imminent danger. I repeat, you are in imminent danger. Please come in.”
The music on the transistor radio suddenly ended and the high-pitched voice came on again:
“Now let’s talk about impotence, and all those poor assholes out there with blue helmets. Impotence, as defined in the Webster’s Dictionary, is powerlessness, sterility, or the inability to engage in sexual intercourse, or the inability to achieve or sustain an erection. Lacking physical strength. Often used in reference to males, it says.
Well, I don’t know about you guys, but as for me, I plan on riding the borrego til’ I die.
And from what they tell me, that may be soon. But that’s a whole other story that we’ll get back to later in the program.
“Now, as for all you baby-blues out there… How do those guns feel, limp in your hands? Like flaccid skin worms? What good is a weapon of peace if never used? On the other hand, think of all the rapists that you’ve saved by not using it.”
Alec took his helmet off and wiped the frost off the top of it. He was still
breathing heavily, steam from his warm breath shot into the air. “He’s mocking us, isn’t he?”
“Do we really have to listen to this shit?” Alec asked.
“Do we really have to save this ass?” Bernard asked.
Krisman snapped up the transistor radio and turned the volume knob until it ‘clicked’ off.
He put the Rascal back into Bernard’s pack. “It’s not him we’re saving,” he said.
“It’s the communication equipment?” Bernard asked.
“Bullshit. It’s him,” Alec said. “No civilian casualties, especially American civilians.”
“Let’s go ladies,” Krisman said.
Bernard and Alec reluctantly slide under their pack straps and began to follow Krisman,
laboring slowly up the ridge.
They climbed steadily for half an hour, up among rock-strewn terrain and through occasional patches of snow. The wind blew hard at times, especially when they came out from between the trees, but when they were in the sun, they could feel its warmth as well. As they gained in elevation, the ridge narrowed and became barren. The bulk of the forest was below them now.
Lieutenant Krisman paused just outside the shade of a small pine tree, huffing. He looked down at his two companions. They were some thirty yards below him. He took the transistor radio from his pack, turned it on, grabbed hold of an overhead tree limb, and hung from it loosely as he listened to the music and waited. Finally, Bernard and Alec, struggling, reached his position and they each found a tree to lean against. Just then the music ended, and the voice came on again:
“Now, on the subject of my imminent health… it is said to be in peril. In fact, it is said my life is in peril. That being the case, let’s make this subject on the visual characteristics of skeletons. Notice how they all look alike? Yeah. Skeletons all look alike. No flesh, no expression. All of that which makes us unique among the living – that’s all gone. I had this conversation once with a skeleton, and it was a trivial one-sided affair. How are you doing today Mr. Skeleton? No response. What beautiful dark eyes you have, Mr. Skeleton. No response. Oh, excuse me, is it Ms. Skeleton? It made me realize it doesn’t matter much, to a skeleton that is, what happens now or tomorrow. Not a hell of a lot. Soon, we’ll all be skeletons, the Grateful Dead, like the men of Grenicia, all squeezed into one grave. The point being, all skeletons look alike, and what matters most here is what we do with the living, as we are living. Put your skeletons to good use boys, while they still have flesh and bone of them. Yes, I am speaking to you baby-blues.”
“I can’t believe we’re risking our lives for this fool,” Alec mumbled.
Lieutenant Krisman looked at his watch. “If we don’t get up there soon, he’ll be right. We’ll all be skeletons.”
“Uh?” Bernard uttered.
Krisman looked back at Bernard, then Alec, looking at the two men as though he was looking through them, at their skeletons. Bernard looked down at himself, at his chubby legs. And Alec did the same, glancing down, over his own long, lanky frame. The two men then quickly began to move, with renewed vigor, following Krisman up the ridge.
In twenty minutes they arrived at the ridge-top. They followed a footpath a short distance north to the base of the small widow-less building. The building was made up of only four concert slabs and one heavy, metal door. They walked around the building to make sure all was clear and then positioned themselves in front of the door. Lieutenant Krisman knocked on it.
“It is Lieutenant Krisman from the U.N. Peacekeeping Force,” he announced, puffs of steam bursting from his lips as he spoke.
There was no answer.
He pounded again. “Hello, this is Lieutenant Krisman of the U.N.”
There was still no answer. He placed his ear against the door and he could hear music inside. He looked back at the other two men. They heard it too. Then there was a noise from the roof-top. Looking up they saw a long, reddish-haired, bearded man peering down at them.
“What do you want?” the man asked sharply. It was the same high-pitched voice they heard on the radio.
“I am Lieutenant Krisman from the U.N. Protection Force. We have evacuation orders for this station and are here to escort you down. Are you Peter Mann?”
“Maybe,” the red-bearded man replied. “Maybe not.”
“We have good information that this Station is an immediate target of Serb forces,” Lieutenant Krisman continued.
Krisman looked at his watch. “Could be anytime now.” He looked back at his two companions who stood nervously behind him, rifles facing barrel down. They were both still breathing heavily from the climb.
“Yes, I am Peter Mann,” the bearded man said. “Hold on a minute.”
Mann disappeared behind the roofline and in twenty seconds the heavy, metal door jarred open. Peter Mann stood there with an automatic pistol low at his side.
“Greetings,” he said.
He motioned for the three men to enter, which they did. Inside they found a makeshift radio room; a chaotic mess of jumbled radio boxes and wires everywhere, duck-tapped to one another, duck-tapped to the walls and duck-tapped to the ceiling pipes. A small bench against the far wall was loaded with electronic equipment and had a swivel chair up against it. On the console was a vintage, desk-top microphone. There were empty, two-liter, plastic Dr Pepper bottles scattered on the floor and Krisman’s eyes followed a line of them into the half-shadowed corner, were stood a young woman. Her full, wavy light brown hair was illuminated by light coming down through a ceiling hatch, through which an iron ladder led to the roof.
“This is Monika,” Mann said.
Lieutenant Krisman nodded a gentle ‘hello’ while he continued surveying the room. “We are short on time,” he said. “Please gather your things. You have five minutes.”
“It won’t be necessary,” Mann said.
Krisman looked up at Mann.
“We’re not leaving,” Mann said.
“Let me clarify, this station is targeted for destruction and we are here to escort you down. It’s not a matter of choice.”
“Sorry,” Mann replied, “We can’t leave.”
“You have five minutes,” Krisman said, scanning the room for a knapsack. “Take what you need. I can give you five minutes only.” His two soldiers stood behind him just inside the doorway, with rifles down.
“Sorry, I’m not going to do that,” Mann said.
“You have to do that.”
“I’m telling you we won’t leave.”
Krisman stopped what he was doing and looked at Mann. “Staying is not an option.”
“The U.N. doesn’t want dead civilians, dead Americans, that includes you.”
“Dead civilians?” Mann’s high-pitched voice went faster. “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”
“Come on, get your stuff.”
“Please leave now,” Mann replied.
“This is a military operation. We wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t something serious.”
“There’s a war on, ya know,” Alec added from his position behind Krisman. He took a step forward and raised the barrel of his rifle.
Mann looked back at Monika, nervously. He had dealt with U.N. soldiers before and did not particularly like them, nor trust them. In his mind, they were nothing more than blind bombardiers following orders without conscience or knowledge of their impact. It was surely the case now, Mann thought. They who could not execute their own cause were going to decide his fate? It was not the Serbs who targeted him, he thought, it was the U.N. who wanted to quiet his political tongue, because they despised the truth and the way in which he delivered it. He had no faith in the U.N., nor these men who represented it. They were too political to do any good, and he’d be damned if he’d allow their politics to decide his fate now.
“Sorry,” he said. “We cannot leave. And you must go!”
Without warning, Mann snapped the pistol up from his side and leveled it at Krisman’s chest. Just as quickly, Bernard and Alec’s rifle barrels jerked up from their sides and locked in on Mann’s chest.
“It’s okay boys,” Krisman said calmly, waving his hand back at them. He walked slowly over to the radio console, eyeing Mann cautiously. Mann’s gun barrel followed him. “There are eighty-millimeter Howitzers out there,” Krisman said, “just beyond the river. Sometime soon, maybe in an hour, maybe in five minutes, this place is going to be obliterated. You leave now or we all die soon.”
“How do I know that’s true?”
“Trust me, it’s true.”
“Why would the Serbs want me dead?”
“Maybe they don’t like what you have to say?” Alec said with a grin.
Krisman picked up the old desktop microphone from the bench and studied it.
“I have fought a war with that microphone,” Mann said, “more so then all your guns.”
Krisman turned the microphone over, examining it as if to say, this is a gun?
“Maybe?” he replied, as if to answer himself.
“Listen,” Alec said. “We walked all the way up here to save your ass.”
“I don’t want to be saved,” Mann came back, his high-pitched voice fluttering now.
“This is bullshit,” Bernard said in his heavy French accent.
“We are under orders to bring you down,” Krisman said flatly.
Mann did not answer.
“So what are we going to do about this?” Krisman asked. “Are we all going to just stand around looking at each other?”
Mann stiffened his arm. Krisman smirked.
“Take him,” Krisman said.
As Bernard and Alec advanced, Mann, whose gun was still pointed straight at Krisman’s chest, raised it to Krisman’s head.
Bernard and Alec hesitated.
“Go!” Krisman ordered impatiently. “He won’t shoot.”
As they moved in, Mann, who was shaking now, turned the gun inward to his own chest.
“Hold it!” Krisman shouted.
Bernard and Alec froze.
Mann quickly shifted the gun up to his head, adjusting the barrel squarely against his temple in dramatic fashion. “Take your baby blue helmets off my mountain or I’ll shoot myself and you’ll have a lot of explaining to do!”
“I don’t think he’ll shoot,” said Alec. “Not that I give a rat’s ass.”
“Yeah, let him do it,” Bernard said. “Let him blow his brains out!”
As Krisman mulled the situation, the irony dawned in his head. Here they were, two Americans in a faraway country, high on a ridge, soon to be obliterated in a shower of shells, ready to kill one another! The man they had come to save was threatening to take his own life. You cannot save a man who doesn’t want to be saved anymore than you can you save a country that does not want to find salvation.
“Stay then,” Krisman said abruptly. He turned back to Alec and Bernard and said, “Put your guns down.”
Alec and Bernard exchanged doubtful glances.
“It’s okay,” Krisman assured.
Reluctantly, the two soldiers lowered their barrels.
Mann did not believe. He remained with gun raised.
Krisman looked over at Monika. The young woman had remained painfully quiet in the corner through all of this. The way the light was coming down on her and reflecting off her golden hair she looked like a Botticelli on a wall in the Louvre. “Let us take the woman,” he said.
Mann paused, but seeing the gun barrels lowered, hearing the sincerity in Krisman’s voice, and weighing the fact that there were no other options, he dropped his gun to his side and nodded his head. He made a subdued, solemn-like walk over to Monika and gently brushed the hair back from her face. He whispered something softly in her ear, speaking in a Slavic language unfamiliar to Krisman. A moment past and she began to cry and Mann took her in his arms and held her, and she held him, locking herself to him. It took a couple of minutes, and nearly a fight, before Bernard and Alec could pry her away. She had finally given up, exhausted and beaten, and with Mann’s urging, she gathered a few items and was escorted outside by Bernard and Alec.
Krisman remained alone in the building with Mann. “Martyrism is not and American trait,” he said. “Why don’t you come down with us?”
“Why don’t you throw away that blue helmet and join me? It is here that this war will be won or lost.”
“You think very mighty of yourself.”
“Not of myself. Of the power of free speech.”
Krisman’s eyes flashed down to the desktop microphone. With one finger he gently pushed it until it tipped over backward on the bench.
“More powerful than all our rifles?”
“More powerful than ten-thousand rifles,” Mann replied.
Lieutenant Krisman adjusted the strap on his helmet and walked to the door, pausing before exiting.
“You’re full of shit, Mann,” he said. “Skeletons don’t look alike. I’ve seen them, at the gravesites in Sarajevo, in the burnt-out homes of Herzegovina, on the roadside beneath a bridge near Dubrovnik. Some are missing parts, some have cracked and broken ribs, and some have chunks of skull missing. You’re full of shit, Mann. Skeletons don’t look alike.”
Peter Mann, a man of many words, now looked back in silence.
“Having your skeleton blasted to smithereens,” Krisman continued. “A hell of a’lotta good that does, uh? Keeping your skeleton in one piece is the object of this game.”
With that, they were gone, heading down the ridge, descending fast to the tree-line. At one point Bernard pulled the transistor radio from his pack, turned it on, and held it in his hand as they walked. They all listened.
“It is a funny thing,” the squeaky voice on the radio said. “They call themselves ‘Peacekeepers’ even in a land that has no peace. They claim to be the ‘Protection Force’ but cannot protect anyone, not even themselves. And they say they are “United Nations’ in a country un-united. They are Pharisees, I say. The hypocrites of the new millennium.”
“He’s talking about us?” Alec asked, then realizing he was, he said: “Why didn’t you let him blow his head off?”
“We are saving his woman,” Bernard said. “He should be grateful for that at least, if nothing more.”
“Let Freedom Ring,” the voice on the radio continued. “You, the people of Kosovo. You are the gatekeepers. You are the arms of freedom, the arms that hold the torch. So long as you are here, so long as you are willing to fight, the gates of freedom remain open, for you and for all of Kosovo.”
Krisman said nothing. He only looked back occasionally at the small white building perched up on the ridge, expecting it to vanish anytime.
They hurried now, making quick time downhill over the same terrain it had taken them twice as long to climb.
It came very quickly, in a sudden flash. Two laser-guided munitions streaked out of the blue, Kosovo sky like lightening bolts, hitting the building and burying it momentarily in a white cloud of smoke. Krisman turned in time to see the building engulfed in a hot flame. When the smoke settled, the building and the radio tower were gone.
The sound of the blast, delayed in reaching them, now echoed down the canyon. The three men exchanged glances, knowing the certainty of what it meant. The transistor radio in Bernard’s pack spewed out a steady hum. As Bernard switched it off, Monika crumbled to her knees crying. She remained there for half an hour with Bernard and Alec consoling before she was able to get up and move again. Even then, and only with their help, was she able to move down the mountain, sometimes having to be dragged, or having to stop frequently as her legs would occasionally give out. Finally they reached the place where their Hummer was parked, hidden in a grove of pines.
Six weeks had passed since the radio station and been eradicated from the ridge top, and it was now early spring. Alec, Bernard and Lieutenant Krisman sat high on a hilltop in the tall grass among some small purple and yellow flowers, watching a wave of refugees flood across the border into Montenegro. From there many would join the long refugee trail north through Hungary to Western Europe. They had dropped Monika off at a NATO Red Cross outpost near Vitomirica three weeks earlier with hopes she would be reunited with family, if she had any left. Krisman left a letter in English explaining the circumstances of how they had found her and asking for assistance in her care, although he knew, she was just one among many. She had been quiet as they traveled, rarely speaking, and only then to herself in her native tongue. She had seen many things, Krisman knew. Things that would make anyone quiet, things not meant to be seen by a person so pure of heart. It was etched in Krisman’s mind, an image of her sitting on a dirt embankment in Subotica, her hair drooping down, her face lifeless, tears glistening on her cheeks. She had cried spontaneously and often, and when she waited for the aid worker to examine her, she collapsed in a pool of tears. Krisman knew, any pureness left in her heart, if not already, by then had been wiped out.
The sun was shinning warmly on them now, and the three men sat relaxing, taking in the warmth upon their shoulders as they watched the thousands of people make the border crossing below. Bernard lay flat on the green earth, his chin on his folded arms with a blade of grass sticking from his mouth. The other two men were also resting and watching, Krisman with both arms back and palms planted outward on the ground, and Alec sitting with his legs crossed, elbows on his knees, and binoculars to his face.
It was quite a spectacle, a mass of humanity, people of all kinds, children, grandparents, families together, and families apart, carrying everything they owned, some reuniting, some rejoicing, some downtrodden and completely broken, many just happy to be out of harms way. From their position high on the hilltop, the hoards of people, with the many vibrant colors of Albanian quilts, cargo bags, and garments of all shades, appeared like a mosaic – a colorful tapestry – flowing like a river of life.
All the colors lead into one, Krisman thought. It is the color of life. It was good to see the living again, to see people with hope again.
As Alec watched the mass migration through the magnification of the binoculars, he could see with great detail the many faces of mothers, and daughters, and children, and grandmothers; faces drawn from war, some hollow with death, yet others elated with freedom.
“Hey! Look at that! There!” he suddenly cried out.
He pointed into the crowd with an outstretched finger. The other two turned and looked in the direction he pointed. He took another look through the binoculars. “Check it out,” he said, handing the binoculars to Lieutenant Krisman while still pointing with his finger.
Krisman took the binoculars and peered through them. He was quiet at first. Then he saw her, Monika, pushing her way through the crowd, against the flow. He watched, curiously, as she struggled upstream. He followed with the glasses ahead of her path, maybe twenty yards ahead, and he saw another person heading downstream with equal determination. The two of them were cutting diagonally against the flow of people, toward one another.
He focused in. “I’ll be damned,” he blurted out.
Hard to believe, he thought. It’s Peter Mann! Somehow the son-of-a-bitch had gotten out!
Lieutenant Krisman adjusted the binoculars, bringing them sharply into focus. He could see Mann clearly now, carrying a very large pack, swollen at the sides like a pregnant porcupine with many wires hanging out and an antenna strapped to the back. He watched as Mann fought through the crowd, and Monika doing likewise, each knifing their way toward one another.
The other two soldiers had stood up now, astonished by this enlightening development, and were staring out in the direction Krisman was viewing.
Krisman handed the binoculars to Bernard, pointing in the direction he should look. Bernard put them up to his face, adjusting them.
“Shit!” Bernard cried out as he focused in on Mann. It was like seeing a ghost. He should be dead! “Let Freedom Ring,” he said with his heavy French accent.
Below, Peter Mann stretched tall above the crowd to see Monika, now only ten yards away, waving her hand high so he could see her. By the time Krisman had the binoculars back to his face, the two were embraced. Mann lifted Monika off her feet and whirled her around, parting the crowd. Then the crowd consumed them, quickly, and like two twigs in a river they were swept away in the current of people.
“All the colors lead into one,” Krisman mumbled to himself.
“What?” Bernard asked.
But Krisman did not reply. He just kept watching them through the binoculars, watching them as they vanished in the crowd, blending in among the collage of colorful Albanian quilts, garments, and cargo bags, flowing on across the border into Montenegro.
Frank Scozzari’s fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, South Dakota Review, Roanoke Review, Pacific Review, Skylark Literary Magazine, Reed Magazine, Eureka Literary Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Spindrift Art and Literary Journal, The Licking River Review, Limestone – A Literary Journal, Sulphur River Literary Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Chrysalis Reader, Thema, and many others. Writing awards include Winner of the National Writer’s Association Short Story Contest and two publisher nominations for the Pushcart Prize of Short Stories. His fiction has also been featured in Speaking of Stories, Santa Barbara’s preeminent literary theater.
photo by US Army.
by Liam Scott
I’m in Love with modern moonlight
And the neon when it’s cold outside
I’m in love with rock ‘n’ roll and I’ll be out all night
To Sinchon Rotary from Inchon International Airport. Airport Bus Limousine # 6044. I’m just back from an E-2 visa run to Japan and, yes, it feels like I have been on some sort of public profile tour. I get off the plane bob and weave through immigration and set feet on solid ground. And it’s not just in my head that Korean Immigration is clocking me and to the best of my knowledge it has nothing to do with making 3WM. I am up to about 10 delays, missed trips, rescheduled flights skittered boat crossings and the like which when all combined should add up to about two months of ‘overstayed visa’ time. Of course it’s a melodrama involving officials and a back-packer, “Why have you overstay?” “I didn’t know, Mr Kim at Immigration office told me to get a bigger passport. I need more pages.”
I’m not trying to laugh at ‘The man’ or belittle his life but the fact is, he started it. I was doing well living at “Yakcheonsa”1., the Buddhist temple on Jeju Island: early wake-ups for chanting, rice and soups really anytime of the day, making headway with the Korean language. I even found my own personal Bodhi Tree (2) to sit under. It was all handy dandy good until the men from the government paid a visit. I told immigration officials at Jeju airport I would be staying at Yakcheonsa and had the invite letter from a monk to clarify it all. Two months later the same two who begrudgingly stamped my passport showed up at the temple dining hall to stand in front of the community kitchen sternly looking for me and when they saw me turned the other way. They dressed identically in some sort of security guards of the twilight zone episode. Two everyday stiffs in cheap nylon navy blue suits and at the bottom white tube stocks fitting into goofy moonwalk black sneakers without any brand name on them.
Their cold posture and cheap indifference took the head monks away from their lunch, and away from the dining table. The two whispered their own officialdom brand of poison into the monks ears, and two weeks later I was chauffeured back to the airport. Off of the Buddhist temple on Jeju Island and back to Seoul, or first Incheon International Airport. The last two days at the temple were anything but a panic. The place had marked it’s calmness on me and even though the monks would not go to the mat against Korean Immigration and their gossip jibes of me being an unsavory rule breaker, no matter, I had quickly found a cheap place to stay. A Hasuk-jib (3) in the Seoul megapolis: student housing in the student district of Sinchon. It’s gonna be cheap and greasy but that’s ok. The last time I was in Seoul was in Sinchon. I was slithering through wet alleys shot-up with neon then down into a basement bar with temple-food thin bodies grinding out some of the wildest rock ‘n’ roll scenes imaginable.
Back again it seems sooner than expected; Sinchon Rotary via Airport Bus Limousine # 6044. The digs were not half bad. I was on the top floor of a five floor walk-up. My floor was coed with Japanese nationals studying Korean and the bathroom and kitchen were scrubbed completely into sanitary submission every day. The J. students wandered around the common space slurping Ramen and always talking about, “Police Bar.” Just then that sounded to ominous to me. From the triangle window of the common space I could stretch one way to see the guidepost of Sinchon Rotary, the Hyundai Department Store, the other vantage was angling down to street level and there it was the crustiest bar still standing in East Asia, Woodstock the ’70s Bar. The smells of Sinchon are famous on their own: from the cat-pissed-on-the-floor bar toilets to the baby-loves-love perfume walls opening or blocking everyone to come into the Hyundai Department Store. Besides the smells, the one thing I can’t escape is that early in the morning I had come off temple for keeps and by the time the sun was dropping I had landed into the debauched drinking quarters of Seoul.
Coming from the tangerine greenhouses of Jeju to an urban hothouse of Japanese students, confused about their own and everyone else’s identity, I wanted to get into a universal space where bird is the word (5). Where some foreign music ( a.k.a. rock ‘n’ roll in Korea) would be played loud. Part two of my desire was also throbbing because my expat monologue was on the tongue.
‘I wanted to tell someone that I was just escorted off the Buddhist temple do to two immigration officials, dressed like non-union plumbers, who came to the temple, that I called home, to convince all the monks that I was squatting. I guess I have no other place to be, so now I am here…’
The little cross walk alleys and four corner intersections of Sinchon are always disorienting or fun depending on the mood, the weather and the amount of vomit-made soju puddles on the pavement. I found the Nori Bar in about twice the time it takes me to find bars, museums or churches that I know pretty well. Then I heard and felt what was happening in Sinchon really for the first time. The place was in-between songs when the door got pushed opens towards me. All the dark mud colored walls were scribbled over by hands that seemed most comfortable when holding a purple crayon. Waves and swerves of graffiti communicated in mass dis-coherent rushes what could have more easily been throw down in one line: “Abandon hope all you who enter here.” I focused and started on maybe what was the 10th beer I had in all of two months and then it began loud and disturbing. Sounded like some theme to a Gustav Mahler symphony played by giant Slavs with wrenches for drum sticks banging on carcasses of rediscovered heroes. The strings were made of steel spaghetti veins taken from the living not the dead. I was transfixed on the word “Wichita”. The bar tender thought I grabbed a piece of scrap paper to make a song request but it was for the lyrics to this song that some anti-hero was singing,
“Don’t want to hear about it.
Every single one’s got a story to tell
Everyone knows about it.
From the Queen of England to the hounds of hell.”
–The White Stripes, Seven Nation Army (6 Link)
There were never more than 15 patrons in Nori Bar that night, and I never got round to telling about my temple life, yet this would be the first of many tangled nights of trampolining madness at Nori. This was in 2004, then Sinchon was in full madhouse swing. It was before Hongdae variegated its entertainment zone by plopping down some rock clubs for expats. Meaning someone got dollar-and-cents smart and added the live music market to the house music wasteland of Hongdae clubs. Refreshing maybe, anything to make a buck for sure. It was about making a scene where whitey: the-expat-creator, could shuffle in with guitar and make noise that generally sounds out a self-serving yawp. A yawp you say? Isn’t good rock ‘n’ roll always a yawp? Well I say the most debilitating thing that planet Korea will ever suffer while I am here began when whitey English teacher showed up with guitar. Editor’s note: that issue, images and scene will be explored unyieldingly and at length in future 3WM features.
Now is now and in the same passer-by-ism look and persona of hey, screw it, I’m just in from an E2 visa run: time to let it fly via Airport Bus Limousine # 6044. I’m alive, free, but now also legal– same shit perhaps but a different stamp in the passport. And the dark half of the year is coming. The veil between the two spheres of the living and the dead is shredding and dissolving. Time to exorcise all demons, exorcise all fear of strangers. I’m a legal alien in Seoul and want some of that Sinchon paganism of the street. I want to give peace a chance. I want to give rock ‘n’ roll a chance.
Coming out of the packed bowels of the Sinchon subway is some particular Asian urban scent blast. A perfumed wonderland. Sweet sweet sweet desire in the street congealed with fresh coffee and grilling pork chops. Getting through the perfumed phalanxes can be such a pain in the ass that there were times when I lit a cigarette in each hand in order to create the minimal space needed to get passed the glitzy and unblushing mob. But I don’t want to sound like too much of a white-ass myself. This is all really a fire mechanism for camaraderie. Its primary sponsor might be “Bean Pole by Juun.J “accessory”, still, there is an undeniable urge and vibe suggesting that we all have just been shepherded by Hermes from a claustrophobic underworld to a refreshing open place.
There is a slow down on the corner for both males and females to stop and to get a tall as an oil rig eye full of themselves in the Hyundai Department Store front mirrors. A 40 feet high dapper dressers experience. And yet what a real chance for a real culture jam. To continuously throw bits of rice cake (when no one is looking, of course) around the subway exit and move away to let squalls of pigeons gather in their own deep ranks and reign hell on the trendy. This is what happened in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (8), and don’t bet there won’t be a short sequel made by RoK Moviemakers (7). The Birds-Transgressive (Korean version).
To save that epiphany for another time as I have made it this far and the side street to the Sinchon boozing troughs is close. It could be a big night ahead and no one can expect to be fed on the shot-put flight between Korea and Japan. Bird is the word is close and that means a pit stop for street grub. It is the last stall before alcohol and was named, “Nice street food in 2009 by SBS media.”
I could smell it of course before I could read that pitch. Pork Burgers in Mayonnaise. Better to hang back a little and see how this comes out. But if the government keeps handing out awards for good taste I suppose it might be okay. There are two kinds of paste, sweet and sticky and even ketchup. The Burger Lady twirls each one on twice for one burger effectively turning it into a mud pie trying to stay afloat in a swamp. She won’t accept the fact that I want one twirl around the burger with one sauce. I tried to let her choose the sauce on her own but that enhanced hungry street food confusion. She has been looking at me like the immigration officials did on the temple in Jeju and the way airport immigration officials always do, piercing at me again with that here comes the rough hewn beast slouching towards Bethlehem look. I’m communicating with her in Korean, but she can’t break down my motions and stop and turn it over to me. No one is being thick here, it’s all part of the training she needs to keep everything in place. Grill the burger each side for a minute, drop on the white crumbling bun and start twirling the sauces. 2$.
Her life is bracketed. She has six nights a week out here becoming at one with the noise and smells of the sizzling griddle. She’s probably not up for any other job or much more in the future other than griddled pork on white bread. Regardless of who becomes mayor of Seoul, or, if the sea of Japan renames to the Yellow Sea, or when China pegs it’s currency to the Martian standard. She is in one clean mind’s eye view, the Burger Lady. This is one thing I remembered trying to take with from the time on Yakcheonsa Temple. When you start to emphasize with those around you and dig where they are coming from you have opened yourself up to a heap of suffering and from that comes misjudgment, and from that continuously more suffering. It seems fairly preposterous to me right now. I am legal to be here, Planet Korea, but there was a time when it made sense for me. Away from the Burger Lady. Down the street from the corner of her stall is an old landmark, The POLICE BAR.
Liam Scott is enjoying the ex-pat life in Seoul, South Korea. He welcomes your comments at slsseoul[at]yahoo.com.
photo by Monica’s Dad
by Frank Scozzari
The chest wound was deep and Ben Gordon knew he had to stop the bleeding and stop it soon, or he’d lose another patient. After all he had been through in the past week with all the wounded and displaced refuges pouring in from the region north, the delayed shipment of medical supplies, and their water source going foul, losing another patient now would be more than he could bear.
The boy, barely sixteen, lay beneath a hanging fluorescent light. Beads of perspiration covered his dark black skin. The wound, caused by a single slash of a machete, split his chest diagonally from above his left breast down nearly to his waist.
“You are not going to die,” Gordon said. You are too young to die.
The boy’s eyes flashed up at Gordon then he turned his head away and fixed a gaze on the southeast corner of the tent. Squatted there was the old medicine man. He sat on a woven, reed mat with colorful ceremonial beads draped down from his neck, and he held a long spear upright in his hand.
“I have seen him before,” Gordon said.
Kairubu, Gordon’s young Tanzanian aide, looked over at the old medicine man. “Yes,” he replied.
“He’s been here several times this week,” Gordon said.
“Why does he come?”
“He come for the dead.”
Gordon looked up at Kairubu. “What?”
“He come for the dead.”
“Is he an undertaker or something?”
“No, he is Malaika.”
“He takes the dead to the High Place.”
The boy began to shake. His skin looked pale and clammy.
“He’s going into shock,” Gordon said.
Kairubu pulled the makeshift I.V. stand along side the stainless-steel operating table and opened the flow-bag wide. He then went to the end of the table and lifted the boy’s legs to his shoulders. Gordon, meanwhile, grabbed a handful of gauze and held it to the wound, but blood immediately oozed up through it.
“He’s hemorrhaging again,” Gordon said. He tossed the gauze to the floor, grabbed a fresh handful, and pushed it deeper into the wound. “Let his legs down.”
Kairubu promptly complied.
“Hold this!” Gordon said, grabbing Kairubu’s hand and placing it against the gauze. Gordon took a syringe, drew it full of medicine, and injected it into the boy’s arm. He held the boy steady waiting for the medicine to take effect. He could see the blood again oozing up through the gauze.
What’s happened to your magic? he asked himself. What’s become of your science to make people live? To repair what men have done?
Gordon knew in a land where it was more economical to use machetes for killing than bullets, it was easy to lose faith. Surrounded by the daily carnage of man’s brutality against itself, and despite the World’s efforts to stop it, it seemed he and the other Red Cross volunteers were all destined to fail.
The boy’s eyes remained fixed on the old medicine man.
Gordon glanced over at the old man.
“Is he kin?” he asked Kairubu.
“He’s upsetting the boy,” Gordon said.
“The boy would want him here.”
“He is special.”
“Is he kin?”
“I said no.”
“Then he must leave.”
“But Mr. Ben, you don’t understand. It is a good thing he is here. It is African tradition.”
“You’re not convincing me, Kairubu.”
“He will ensure the boy’s safe passage to the spirit world.”
Passage? Gordon thought. What passage? “Wait a minute… you aren’t saying…?” Gordon stopped, turned to Kairubu, and said firmly, “Unless he’s the boy’s grandfather or something, he must leave.”
“I tell you Mr. Ben. It is a good thing. The boy would want him here.”
“Sorry Kairubu, this boy isn’t going to die, not today, not on my table. Tell the old man he must leave.”
“But Mr. Ben…”
“Get him out of here please, now!”
Kairubu’s white eyes flashed from his jet-black skin. He reluctantly motioned to the soldier at the doorway and said in Swahili, “Chukua mzee nje. Toke!” The soldier took the old man by his long, slender arm, and escorted him to the exit.
Gordon watched as the old man moved slowly toward the door, and as he did, the old man turned and looked back at Gordon and for the first time Gordon saw clearly his face. He had dark, sullen eyes which were sunken in his head. They appeared as black canker sores from beneath snow-white brows.
It dawned on Gordon that old man’s presence coincided with the deaths of many of his patients. In the past week alone there was the old woman on Tuesday, the little girl with dysentery, and the man who had lost his arm to a machete. Each time the old man had been sitting there, like he was now, a buzzard waiting for the carrion.
As the tent flap closed behind him, Gordon looked over at Kairubu. “Is that your Dark Africa?”
Kairubu did not answer.
Gordon slowly lifted the gauze from the boy’s chest. The wound had stabilized. The blood had begun to coagulate. Gordon sighed.
“We’re getting it, Kairubu,” he said. He dabbed the wound with the gaze. “Yeah, that’s the way it should look.”
Kairubu broke a little smile.
“You are going to be fine,” Gordon said, wiping the young man’s forehead with his free hand.
The wound was deep, down to the sternum, and the tissue surrounding the lesion was blue and swollen. But it was a clean cut, as if it had been done with a surgical knife, which would make it easier to close. He took a nylon string from the tray, threaded it through a needle, and began to suture the wound. It is time to make your magic, Gordon thought, to use your hands to repair what man has done.
“He does not come for everyone,” Kairubu said, returning to the old medicine man, “only for special people, those with a pure heart. A heart must be pure.”
“Yes?” Gordon replied, sarcastically. “It must be real special to be dead with a pure heart.”
“It is African custom,” Kairubu assured. “It is part of life.”
“Okay, I’m sorry.”
“He takes them to Peponi,” Kairubu said, “a place way up in the mountain. It is a beautiful place, most beautiful place in all of Africa. You can see far out across the Savannah, and all the animal life is one and the same, and all the places you wish you could be are there, all in one. It is like your heaven, the dwelling place of God.”
Gordon looked skeptical. Being a man of medicine, trained in science, he had always been cynical about such things. He was not one to believe in something that was not supported by science, but he did not want to offend his young friend. “Is it like Arusha?” he asked.
“Is Arusha a place of peace and beauty for you?”
“Yes. It is my favorite spot in Africa.”
“Then it is like Arusha. It is beauty in its purest form; beauty of the natures, and beauty of the souls.”
Gordon smiled. He knew of this place; a place high in the mountains where his mind could go to rest; to find asylum from the horrors of this world. It was a place he wished he could be now. And now, as he sutured up the wound, he recalled a time he was in Arusha, especially beautiful after the long rains of March and April, although it was September now and the rains had not come yet. The rains are good, he thought. They wash away all the blood and horror of war; they cleanse what man has done and bring back to Africa what it has always been, a beautiful place of natural bounty.
“What did you call him?” Gordon asked.
“Yes. It means Special One, touched by the spirit of the animal world, like an angel is touched by your God. It is a great honor if he comes for you.”
“Yesterday they were no one. Today they are the honored dead,” Gordon recited softly.
“We all die. We all do not go to Peponi.”
“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll pass on this Peponi for now.”
“Peponi… heaven… no different, Mr. Ben, just called different things.”
“Heaven waits only for those who believe,” Gordon said. He looked down at the boy. “He believes, especially now,” he said. “Here, hold this.”
Kairubu held the gauze against the boy’s chest as Gordon tied off the last suture.
It finished nicely, Gordon thought. The sutures were well-spaced and pulled tightly together against the skin. He cleaned the wound with an antiseptic.
“You are well!” Gordon announced triumphantly to the boy.
As he smiled at the boy and then turned his head to Kairubu, a gush of wind outside whipped the roof canvas like a blanket. All those inside the surgical tent glanced skyward as if waiting for something. The militia had set up eighty-millimeter L´egers in the low-lying hills to the south and had been periodically bombarding the camp.
“Look at us!” Gordon said. “We’ve all lost our nerve.”
He dropped his eyes back down to the boy. The boy looked relieved and alive again, and his skin was back to its beautiful natural color.
With Kairubu’s assistance, Gordon helped the boy upright. Together they dressed the wound with gauze and wrapped it completely with bandages around his chest.
“He will need plenty of rest and plenty of water,” Gordon said. “Water is best, but hot tea with lemon juice is good too. The antibiotics must continue all night.” Gordon looked down at his youthful patient and smiled. “Take special care of this one for me. I will see him first thing in the morning.”
Gordon pulled the plastic surgical gloves from his hands and laid them on the tray. He grabbed Kairubu by the shoulders and shook him playfully. “You did well, Kairubu. We did well! I’ll be in my tent if you need me.”
Gordon exited the surgical tent still wearing his blood-covered apron. He was surprised to see the old medicine man seated across the dirt corridor, there in the long shadows of an old wooden cart with his legs crossed and his long spear held tall beside him. The cart, drawn by a single mule and oddly sporting car tires, was empty now, except for a single throw rug which lay flattened in the bed.
Gordon took off his apron and rolled it into a ball. “Sorry to disappoint you old man,” he said.
He glanced down the long corridor between the tents. There were thousands of white canvas tents, and smoke coming from many makeshift, cooking fires, and there were children playing, kicking up the African dust into the late afternoon light. The sun’s rays caught the dust and with the silhouetted children dancing beneath it, for a moment Gordon saw beauty. It was good to see beauty again, Gordon thought.
Just beyond, in the hills below the fading light, he knew, the genocide continued under the hands of the Hutu militia.
As Gordon turned south heading toward his tent and passed the medicine man, he nodded and offered a smile. The old medicine man’s face was too dark to reveal an expression, but Gordon noticed the crown of his snow-white head turned and followed him.
Sorry to keep you waiting old man… Gordon thought, waiting for nothing. Today was not your day. But don’t worry old man. If it is the dead you seek, there’ll be plenty others for you.
Gordon lay back on his cot staring at the canvas-ceiling. At a quarter to six, the evening attendant came to spray the tent with mosquito repellant. When he finished, Gordon asked him to bring some beer. In several minutes the attendant returned with a bucket of river-drawn water with three bottles of Tusker beer in it. Gordon thanked the boy, tipped him the customary Swiss franc, and sent him on his way. He popped off the top of one of the beer bottles and took a long drink from it.
The smell of the insect repellant was still strong, so Gordon began opening the tent windows, rolling up the canvas of each and tying it off. When he reached the door, he pulled back the canvas and was startled to see the old Shaman’s cart parked across the way. Squatted in the shadow was the old medicine man.
“Sorry to deny you a corpse today, old one,” he said. “I hope you are not upset by it.”
It was not I who denied you. It was the power of a surgical knife. You may know death better than I, you may not despise it as I do, but it is I who holds the knowledge of life… the science of reparation.
Gordon shook his head, fastened the outside clasps, and retreated back to his cot.
It was true! he thought. The old medicine man had been there in the surgical room each time a patient had died that week. But today he was denied.
He lay down, took a long swig from the Tusker beer, and recommenced his long, thoughtful gaze at the ceiling. He considered now, how it was that he came to this wretched place, this indention in the earth where two rivers met where the Red Cross had pitched the first of three refugee camps closest to the war. Everyone coming out of Rwanda was a refugee in the strictest sense of the word, starved and wounded, desperate for shelter and food, and medical care, some missing limbs, and if they could walk, carrying all they had in their arms.
Gordon retraced his steps as though he were telling the story to someone. He remembered how there had been plenty of pilots at the hotel in Nyanza. Wherever there are U.N. people there are always plenty pilots around looking to make a dollar. But none of them were willing to fly them to Ngara, even though a flight had been pre-arranged with the Red Cross. That should have been a sign in and of itself. Still, after an afternoon of searching, their team leader tracked one down, and because the money was good, they had been guaranteed a flight to their distant outpost. The following morning, they were led to a dirt tarmac where they all squeezed into a small, Spanish-built CASA. They made themselves comfortable among crates of medicine and food destined for the refugee camp. The ninety-minute flight was uneventful, except for the trip over Lake Victoria. From the altitude of the plane, they could see tiny islands floating in the turquoise water. It was shocking to all of them when they realized they were bloated bodies floating in the water, turned white by the sun.
They landed on a dusty runway surrounded by a tent city that stretched for many miles. A fleet of Land Rovers arrived to collect their supplies and take them to the U.N. headquarters. The place was a conglomerate of relief organizations – the Red Cross, MSF, CARE, and the Red Crescent.
In the morning they headed out for the border, an hour to travel fifteen miles. They felt like salmon swimming upstream against a ferocious river. There were endless lines of Hutus and Tutsi, people carrying the last of their possessions; even children carried bundles. Old men carried firewood, now a valuable commodity. It took them all day to reach the Tanzanian border post on the eastern shore of the Kagera River. There was no longer a need for visas – there was not much of a government left. They were waved across with little fuss. They crossed the bridge high above the Kagera River. He could see bodies floating downstream. It is strange, he thought, having just a day earlier been in a St. Louis airport, and now seeing bodies in a river. There were clusters of children, newly orphaned and wandering around with blank expressions of their faces. He remembered being stopped by armed members of the RPF – Rwandese Patriotic Front. They were questioned and identified, and allowed to pass. Their Tutsi driver didn’t fare as well. The guards treated him like a deserter and question his ownership of the vehicle. He was escorted away to a nearby building and never seen again.
There was a group of four European Red Cross volunteers stranded on the roadside. The tires on their vehicle had been blown when they had run over sabotage spikes which had been laid across the road. They had continued on until their jeep had gone down to its undercarriage in the mud. They loaded as much of their medical supplies as they could into their Land Rover, and they had room for only one; a Swiss nurse who sat herself in the back among the supply crates, her knees cramped to her chest.
Finally they reach this godforsaken outpost; this place where streams of broken humanity poured down into a hollow in the earth. It had been five months now that he had been there, five months too long.
Now in his mind Gordon saw the children playing outside the surgical tent. He saw the long columns of white dust they kicked up and how the afternoon sunlight filtered through it so nicely.
It is good to see the beauty again, he thought. It is good to find an island of beauty in a sea of war. There were times he thought he’d never see beauty again.
He took another drink from his beer and rested his head back on the pillow.
It came suddenly, a flap of wind against the tent canvas, a loud gusting sound, followed by that awful screeching. In his mind he knew what was coming, but he lay there hopelessly paralyzed. There was nothing he could do. The sound of splitting air was followed by a thunderous roar and a blinding flash. Then there was nothingness.
When he awoke, he found himself in the center of the rubble of what remained of his tent. The air was full of dust and smoke, and the smell of sulfur. His legs had no feeling, nor did his torso. He was not sure if he still had legs, or if they had been blown off by the blast.
I must check my body, completely as a physician would check it, he thought.
But his hands would not move.
There was a silhouette above him. He realized he was not alone. Slowly a face came into focus.
Kneeling above him was the old medicine man.
Gordon tried to move, restlessly, but could not manage it even the slightest bit. Fighting it, finally giving in, he eased back and looked up into the deep, dark canker-sores which were the old man’s eyes. In the second past, which seemed to be a millennium, he saw into another world. Within the old man’s eyes was the accumulation of all the colors of the earth; of all the magnificent spirits of animal kingdom; and of all the benevolence of mankind.
Gordon’s mind faded back into darkness.
The next thing he knew he was inside the back of a Land Rover racing swiftly across the Savannah. He could feel the ground rolling swiftly past beneath him. He was so thankful that he was alive and had survived the blast. But where was it that they were taking him?
He lifted himself up and looked out across the countryside. He was amazed to see the beautiful green hills of Arusha. It was strange, he thought, to see the grass so green in September. The rains must have come early.
He lowered his head back down in the bed and pictured the lovely green hills of Arusha rolling past. It was good to see beauty again, he thought. At last, he had returned to his favorite place in Africa, to Arusha.
Frank Scozzari’s fiction has previously appeared in various literary magazines including The Kenyon Review, South Dakota Review, Roanoke Review, Pacific Review, Skylark Literary Magazine, Reed Magazine, Eureka Literary Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Spindrift Art and Literary Journal, The Licking River Review, Limestone – A Literary Journal, Sulphur River Literary Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Thema, and many others. Writing awards include Winner of the National Writer’s Association Short Story Contest and two publisher nominations for the Pushcart Prize of Short Stories. His fiction has also been featured in Speaking of Stories, Santa Barbara’s preeminent literary theater.
photo by shared interest