by Kimberly Kim
I took my umbrella out of its vinyl casing, and strapped it across my back. It’s a strange habit, I know, but ever since the accident I can’t stand it when things move. The strap helps to keep it secure across my back, and I’ve grown quite fond of it.
Coat on, I left the house to catch the first morning bus. Leaving just after dawn makes me feel awake, but this day was somehow different. Perhaps there was some mold in the air? Something sticky. I don’t know what it was, but I felt a strange twitch while yawning, as if an ache lurked somewhere in my body.
On the bus, it was especially quiet. The only movement the swaying of a couple passengers standing up, holding the grips from the ceiling rail. Their bodies moved in unison in slow twists and turns. No one wanted to be up it seemed. As the bus lurched, puddles on the floor sloshed and soaked the cuffs of my pants. I slept standing up, leaning against the lady standing next to me, and woke up the instant I stepped on her foot.
“Oops, sorry about that,” I said. “Just a bumpy ride, I guess.”
The woman whose foot I stepped on was wearing a thin, light green dress with white polka-dots and a nice V-neck, which accented her neckline and drew attention to her snowy white skin. She had the most angelic face. I turned away after she noticed me staring at her for a bit. Her meek smile surprised me as her demeanor seemed to suggest something else entirely. I couldn’t help but take another peek at her as she turned to stare out the window. She looked different from the other people I’ve seen in Seoul.
We rode in silence for the remainder of the trip. Me with my umbrella, leaning closer to the window, so as not to bother her. I had a high red plaid scarf tucked around the bottom of my face and sunglasses and it must have seemed odd to be wearing sunglasses on a day as dark and rainy as it was. She stole another glance, then fumbled with the contents of her purse, looking for something deep within it. “Enough of wondering about a stranger,” she must have thought as she found her iPod and disappeared into the first song on her playlist.
She eventually got up to leave the bus. Didn’t seem to have an umbrella so I rushed after her and, just as she was about to step off, I clicked the button and it heroically open, saving her from the rain. She looked over her shoulder and blushed, pulled out her ear buds.
“Thanks. Coming to my rescue, I see,” she said, still shy and I liked that.
“Well, yes. I suppose I am,” I replied.
“I live just a couple blocks away,” she said. “It’s not too far.”
“Alright, I’ll walk you home,” I said without the slightest hesitation.
We moved in silence, twisting and turning around the people in the alleyway.
“What’s your name, by the way?” she asked as she turned to me, nose scrunching up.
“Joshua,” I said and turned to her.
“Hi, I’m Stella.” She smiled.
As I tried to keep the umbrella over Stella’s head, we weaved through other pedestrians and eventually came to a small house behind an Italian restaurant. I could smell Roma tomatoes and olive oil in the air. My stomach growled.
“Here,” she said and pointed to a small house with a small door and a window to the right of it. It looked like a tiny cottage. A quaint little place tucked away in the middle of a bustling city.
“Something you don’t see every day,” I said.
“Why don’t you come in?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t mind drying off a bit.”
“Sure, and I’ll grab you a cup of hot tea.”
“I’d like that.”
Music played softly in the background. I could hear it as soon as the door closed and I recognized it right away.
“Do you always keep Lifehouse playing?” I asked.
“Only for days like today,” she said. “It makes me feel a little less lonely, I guess. Plus, I especially connect with their lyrics.”
“So, you wish to find someone who can ‘see past all the lies’?” I was quoting now from the song.
“Of course. But it’s not that easy to find someone like that. It’s not easy to find someone who truly cares to even get to know you. And, anyway, most people are living a lie, and don’t even realize it.”
“What do you mean by living a lie?” I asked, though I felt like I knew.
“Well, for instance, most people live never knowing what true love is.”
I was taken a little off guard by her response and loosened my scarf.
“Do you believe that true love lasts?” I finally asked, and my hands slightly shook.
“Doesn’t everyone? Don’t you?” she said almost angrily.
“Maybe I did—once,” I said.
“You can probably guess.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.”
“That’s too bad,” I said.
“Yeah, I suppose.”
She excused herself for a moment and returned with a serving tray, poured tea into two porcelain cups with saucers beneath them. They were like an old couple, aged and slightly worn.
“Do you like the song ‘Black Balloon’ by the Goo Goo Dolls?” I asked.
“I think I’ve heard of it.” Stella stared deep into her cup of tea, her tiny hands wrapped around the cup, almost in a trance, eyes lined with mystery. And then she closed them and it looked like she began to meditate.
“Like in the song, have you ever felt ‘a love that someone never showed you’ – a love that took you to a place you’ve never been before?” I was just trying to make conversation.
With her eyes closed, she started to move to the music in her mind. She eventually opened them again and stared at me for a bit, as if she were seeing me for the first time. Then she leaned over and kissed me. It was tentative at first. Our lips embraced in a soft, sensual kiss. Her tongue slid into my mouth, but I stopped the kiss abruptly.
Stella turned away, briefly, and then whipped back and stared at me accusingly, before looking down into her lap, almost as if she would cry. Yet, no tears left her eyes.
“I thought you could show me a love I’ve never seen before,” she said slowly, and kept staring at her lap.
“I don’t know if I could do that. I mean, we’ve only just met.”
I took off my scarf, and revealed my face. Stella turned to me and looked, astonished by what she saw, though she tried not to show it. A long scar covered the left side of my chin, across my neck, and down my shoulder.
“I was in a fire about 3 years ago,” I said, as she held my eyes intently. “I lost my entire family, including my parents and my fiancée. We were in love. We had just become engaged.”
My voice grew thick and tears began to cloud my vision and it looked like Stella might also cry.
“I’m so… I’m so sorry. I didn’t know,” she said.
“How could you have? I wouldn’t expect you to know. We only just met.”
“I’m sorry, Joshua.”
“She died the night after I proposed to her. It was a different world, a different place without them. I didn’t know where to go.”
I turned to clutch my scarf and then I got up to leave.
Stella followed and quickly said, “Well, imperfections make true love; imperfections are what make things perfect.” More song lyrics I suppose.
“I have to go now,” I told her. “I hope you find your true love.”
And then I was out the door without my umbrella, and into the alley before I realized it, locked in the bustle of strangers and walking through the rain.
Kimberly Kim is a recent graduate of the MFA in Writing program at California College of the Arts. She lived in Korea for two years. She is from Michigan and currently resides in the SF Bay Area. You can usually catch her attending a Live at 851 Reading in San Francisco.
photo by Charlotte.Morrall
by Holly Day
she knew it would only
hurt for a moment
but the concept of dying
for something so very important would make any
amount of pain worth it. in her
dreams, she imagined the statues
her countrymen would build in honor
of her sacrifice, could imagine the proud tears
that would be shed in her memory, these people she had
helped set free. their imagined gratitude
burned like fire, often woke her up, anxious to get
it all over with. the day of, her last day
strange men showed up at her door, strapped
bombs to her body, and later, without
even a thank you, pushed
her out of a plane.
Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota who teaches needlepoint classes in the Minneapolis school district. Her poetry has recently appeared in Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Oxford American, and Slipstream, and she is a recent recipient of the Sam Ragan Poetry Prize from Barton College. Her book publications include Music Composition for Dummies, Guitar-All-in-One for Dummies, and Music Theory for Dummies, which has recently been translated into French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese.
photo by GilbertoFilho
by Fabio Sassi
Fabio Sassi has had several experiences in music, photography and writing. He has been a visual artist since 1990 making acrylics using the stenciling technique on canvas, board, old vinyl records and other media. He uses logos, icons, tiny objects, discarded stuff and shades. He often puts a quirky twist to his subjects to give them an unusual perspective. He lives in Bologna, Italy.
by Christopher Leibow
You cry out and I come staggering as if drunk again, clumsy, unkempt shinning from weary eyes and a series of exits. You lift alphabets from off of my shoulders, shake them clean, line up the letters like wares at a gypsy flea market or you take them into your hands spinning round and round like a dervish and turn them into incredibly small starlings on the line of a score, each note trembling, alive, shaking off the dust of lost cities like a curse against the gods that abandon us daily because we refuse to remember them. And yet our diaries and our letters betray them at every turn and refute everything they think they know about us.
I cry out and you come to me spinning, a new star, all ignition and light, heavy metals and elliptical motion, shade and void, flower in darkness; light unfolding. Love. Your name now stretched across the Northern night sky like a traveler’s star-chart, glowing in the night, lighting my face.
Christopher Leibow is a vagbond poet, and visual artist and a performer of small slights of hand. He is an MFA graduate of Antioch and has been published in numerous journals and online, including Juked, Interim, and Barrow Street and Cricket Online Review. His art has appeared in Samizdat, 491 Magazine and has been a featured artist online with Cha: A Journal of Asian Writing and OFZOOs. He is a two time Pushcart Award nominee and a Utah Book Award Nominee and the winner of the Writers@Work Writers Advocate Award in 2008.currently lives in Salt Lake City, with his cat El Guapo.
photo by suicine
by Kelly Jones
I save voicemails now; whenever someone I love is far away I hit nine so that their voice remains reachable. If something goes wrong or the end of the world comes, I could dial up my voicemail and listen to those I love say hello…I love you…I miss you, or whatever it is their voices are always waiting to say. My cell phone will only save a message for forty days, so every few weeks I resave them. When a close friend was teaching overseas I did this for over two years. Some may say this is crazy, but I just call it being prepared. Although, if an emergency ever arose and I needed the comfort of a familiar voice, there is nothing I know that assures me that my cell phone will work and that the saved voice will still be there. Sometimes, I guess I’m just an optimist.
Kelly Jones is an MFA candidate at the University of New Orleans, where I teach freshman comp and work as poetry editor for Bayou Magazine. When not reading and writing she does improv and spends time near bodies of water.
photo by twodolla