UA-19541526-1

Phantastic

by Alexandra Leong

thelastofus_permacultured-pola

I long not to be a queen of your stupid dreams
where strange angels of subjectivated desire
struggle to fight their own inclinations
to pedestalize you —
butcher and shred you.

You make an angel in my image
She is holier and resembles you
more than she does me,
I make a monster out of you
he is decidedly meaner
and you are clearly the weaker
than either of you are real.

Your posture transmutes me to a psychosis
Creating such a vivid, comely story
out of stress, and nothing.
My systems attenuated by annihilation
I have to fight the impulse to invert our positions
only to find them mirrored in demonic clouds
that shroud primordial terror,

I hallucinated that we were equal.
I prefer a monstrosity to a pure bipolar,
false obverse.
Every time we warred or sparred
It was an act of building a joint alternate universe

Every timed I succumbed
in the event of loving you
instead of being a grand love,
a revolutionary love of two –
I spiraled down a classical scene
of hysteria, psychosis, desire —
You enthralled me.

Is it possible to subvert you? Overthrow or engage you?
Defeated and dissonant —
I rebuked you.

As long as you understand my reasons
for-itself in this alternative,
there is a space carved out of my thoughts
which give shape to a dark, cloudless universe
not so far removed from this anomaly
of the first world–
where everything was colloquial and frivolous.

But the difference is I am not yours
and,
you too are free of laboring
in vain.

*

Alexandra Leong is an MFA Graduate Writing student at California College of the Arts studying fiction, poetry, and recently, film. She studied Literature and Political Theory at the University of California Santa Cruz (2010), and is a lover of art and poetry.

photo by permacultured

Civilization and Its Malcontents

by Arthur Levine

civilization_psigrist-pola

Old Crick might still be with us were it not for my being such a dumb ass. Still, maybe he’s better off. Either there’s nothing, which would trouble me and a lot of other folks greatly to be the case, or else there’s something, which most folks including myself tend to accept as the gospel truth. Problem is, what’s that something going to be?

Old Crick could be down there shoveling coal into a hot furnace or up above wearing wings. Well it’s easy enough to see old Crick working a shovel, but it’s hard as all get out to picture wings on that cranky old sonofabitch, all liquored up with them raggedy overalls and that old corn pipe he’s forever chewing the stem of.

*

I knew it was a mistake from the get-go, but that’s Joey Fazenbaker for you. He brings it over in this metal box like something you might put your important papers in if you had any, all locked up, and he hands me the key. Then he plops on the couch and puts his feet up, stretching those long legs of his across Stell’s new coffee table, and lights him a Lucky Strike.

I shove the ashtray over in his general direction and tell him to get his damn boots off Stell’s table, which he does, misses the ashtray with his match, and says, “Lookit, Barb don’t want a goddamn gun in the house now we got us a baby to worry about. What am I gonna do? I don’t want to just sell it. It was give to me by Pop and I’d like to keep it, if for nothing else to pass it on to my own son now that I got one. All’s I’m asking is keep it for me for a bit. Give me time to work something out.”

His breath smells like he just ate a dogshit sandwich for breakfast and I wish he’d hit the ashtray just once. He’s like that. Only pays attention to his own concerns. Nobody else’s matter.

“Can’t you just lock it up?” I say, “Take the bullets out and just lock it up?”

“I’m telling you how she is she won’t have it! She told me straight out, either the gun goes or you AND the gun goes! She don’t kid around, Barb don’t.”

The last thing me and Stell need is another firearm in the house. We got rid of my 870 on account of how the buckshot demolished the paneling in the rec room during one of our lover’s quarrels.

Course we always come back around Stell and me, kiss and make up. That’s just how we are. Like most folks, carrying on one minute, all lovey-dovey the next.

Well finally I says to Joey, “Okay. For now, just put the damn thing in the shed and cover it with that old tarp I got over the half pint of Comfort I keep for emergencies. Stell and me will discuss about it this evening, when she gets home from the Legion. But no promises! And for Christ’s sake empty out the bullets! And lock the damn thing up and hold on to the damn key! And don’t be forgetting to lock the shed when you’re done!”

I should have went with him.

*

My ass hurts from sitting on them steps leading to the gallery of Miller’s Store. Behind me old Crick has planted his own self on a wood crate to the right of the front door, gumming the stem of that corncob pipe of his.

The rest of the usuals clutter up the steps and the gallery whittling sticks or just taking up space. Donny Blue Crow is sipping his shine out of a jar and humming whatever it is he hums. Cagey Bill is tapping his foot and drumming his fingers and jerking his head back and forth every so often. Something’s not right with how he is, makes him carry on like that.

Dud Fazenbaker (no relation to Joey) pulls on the visor of his IH ball cap to shade his eyes and spits a brown stream across the steps just missing the high-top Chuck Taylors of Durum Brown, who’s struggling up the street on account of the bad wheel on that damn grocery cart of his, full of alunium cans.

Durum stops and scratches his stomach through a hole in that t-shirt he wears, the one with the rock band on the front, which don’t appear to have met with any clothes soap since the Surrender.

He points at Dud and yells, “You watchit! You best not be spittin’ on no African-Americans no more! Else I gone get the NCA and P after your ass!”

Dud pays him no mind and Durum Brown goes on up the street nearly run down by Sheriff Hodge, who swerves that old Ford of his toward Buster Hill’s fruit wagon.

Buster jerks the wagon out of harm’s way in time for the Sheriff to right the Ford again, but in the process tips the wagon and a goodly portion of Buster’s strawberries pour over into the dusty street.

“Sheriff looks to be in his sheets again,” Dud Fazenbaker says to nobody specific, and lets loose another brown stream, “Whatsit they says? Law is for the protection of the people? Protecting the people my ass!”

Old Crick shifts his position on the crate, says, “Hodge ain’t the problem. Civilization, that’s the problem.”

After another long swallow from his fruit jar, Donny Blue Crow looks up, says, “Ain’t that the truth.”

Joey Fazenbaker comes up street on his way to cut granite for tombstones at Keller and Sons. Keller passed on a long time ago and his sons sold the business to that nasty old skinflint Efrem Poor, but Poor kept the old name.

“Protecting the people my ass!” Dud says again, fingering a fresh chaw from the package of Red Man.

Old Crick ain’t listening, he just goes on mumbling to himself on how things is going to pot. After a bit he pockets his half pint, gets up with some effort, cracking his arthritic knees, and hobbles down the steps of the gallery up street in the direction of Skiddy’s Tavern. As it’s getting on noon, Skiddy will be lighting up the sign about now and making ready to open.

*

Stell and I was barred from Skiddy’s for a time, back when Donny Blue Crow’s granddaughter Lila and me started getting too friendly and Stell aims her half-filled long-necked Bud at me and misses and throws it clear through Skiddy’s front window.

Donny Blue Crow hisself don’t go into Skiddy’s on account of he prefers his shine to store bought, which he buys cheap off another redskin who I believe goes by the name of Lester Yellow Bird or Yellow something or other.

Lester must be a hundred years old and don’t come to town so much anymore. Used to he’d come in driving that rickety wagon filled with fruit jars full of shine, sell what he could, then you wouldn’t see him till the next batch. I bought some off of him once but it tasted so poorly I couldn’t get it down. Old Crick claimed it was on account of the snake poison them injuns add to it to give it more of a kick. Don’t bother some though, anyways not Sheriff Hodge. Seems he’s one of the old injun’s best customers.

Anyhow the story has it Lester’s mule finally dies on him and his son ain’t about to drive him up in that rusted Chevy station wagon he’s got, on account of he has ideas of being a preacher and is always tormenting the old man about making the Devil’s own brew. So now old Lester borrows a mule for his wagon when he can, which like I say, is none too often.

Them injuns is a sorry bunch. Most don’t work and live off us taxpaying citizens, welfare, food stamps, the whole bit. But they do like their firewater. Their women have a taste for it as well.

Like that squaw got me in a mess over at Skiddy’s. Cute young thing, but a little on the chunky side. To hear Cagey Bill tell it, she ain’t above given a white man a pretty good time for his money, neither. I’ve heard similar from Bug Eyes Humphrey, but that don’t hold much water, as when it comes to him relating about his carryings ons and such, Bug Eyes and the truth tend to be very distant relations.

*

Skiddy’s right name is Eustace Skidmore, but nobody’s called him that in years. Most folks can’t even recall his right name. Of late, Doc Grandy told him no more drinking on account of his liver, so these days Skiddy pretty much sticks to just beer.

He’s got the Papst sign in the window lit and is open for business by the time I catch up with old Crick and Dud Fazenbaker and Bug Eyes Humphrey and grab me a stool at the bar.

Skiddy lights himself a Camel, he don’t pay no mind in his place to all that “No Smoking” bullshit the County come up with. Hell, when Hodge or his deputy, Skinner, come around, they light up just the same as anybody else. When the County started in with all that I recall Skiddy went on for the whole day, saying “They got no business telling me what I can and can’t do in my own goddamn place!”

I also recall old Crick telling him, “It ain’t just the damn government! It’s the whole of civilization gone haywire!”

Skiddy puts his mop back in the corner of the bar, turns on the fan, drops a red quarter in the box, and makes his selections, the first of which is F7, Tom T. Hall. Folks here has their favorites and you get to know them numbers by heart after awhile.

He pours old Crick a shot of CC and reaches in the cooler for a PBR for Crick to wash it down. Not having the proper license, Skiddy only serves hard liquor to the regulars and then only when there’s no strangers around. Crick prefers his Beam but all’s Skiddy gets is the whiskey, so Crick makes do just to be sociable, saving the rest of his half pint for tomorrow’s breakfast.

If I’ve got one wish, I hope it rains at my funeral
For once, I’d like to be the only one dry

 

In no time the bar fills up with the rest of the regulars, paying their tabs out of pension money, welfare checks, paychecks from the Celanese, unemployment benefits (mostly from them got shitcanned over at CONRAC Industries), and a few here and there, with food stamps (fifty cents on the dollar), while some, known to be good for it, just run tabs till the next payday comes.

Skiddy flips a red quarter to Dud Fazenbaker for the box, and Dud presses some numbers, the first being J4, a George Jones.

…can’t hold out much longer
The way that I feel
With the blood from my body
I could start my own still…

Most of the bar talk still concerns Sheriff Hodge running down that little Shepherd girl.

“Won’t nothing come of it,” says Bug Eyes, in between swallows, “The old man spends more time upstate than he does with that woman of his. All them Shepherds is just a bunch of low-rent whites. What’s one less?”

“Low-rent or not, ain’t nobody g-going to m-mess with Hodge,” stutters Cagey Bill, “Ain’t like he’s g-going to arrest hisself!”

“You got that right!” adds Dud, “Protection of the people, my ass…”

“Just one more sign,” mumbles old Crick, “Hodge shoulda oughten to be part of that sorry crowd begging quarters in front of the monument, instead of wearing a badge, if it weren’t that civilization has gone to pot so…”

Crick tosses Dud a quarter and tells him play G9.

…Stop the world and let me off
I’m tired of goin’ ’round n’ ’round…

*

Stell comes through the door with a look on her face says now’s not the time to be talking nonsense about keeping no gun around and when I run Joey’s gun business by her, turns out I’m absolutely correct.

“You dumb ass! How can you even think of keeping another gun in the house after you damn near blew my head off that time in Jackson?”

I don’t say nothing on account of I’m pretty good about knowing when to keep my mouth shut when she gets like this. But she’s got it all wrong. Jackson’s not where it was at, it was later on when we were renting that place outside of Clarysville. I went after her with a pair of borrowed hedge clippers in Jackson, but only after she tried to smash my head in with that planter her mother gave us in the shape of a catfish.

And regarding Joey’s gun, I’m thinking it’s best to let on like I’m in agreement one hundred percent, which in a matter of speaking I am, and I figure to just leave it where it’s at, under the tarp in the shed, locked up with no bullets, how I told Joey to leave it. Can’t do nobody no harm locked up with no bullets.

Only like I say, I should have followed him out there.

*

The benches is all filled up, so me and Cagey Bill and Bug Eyes and some folks with which I’m only passing familiar, all stand in the back of the courtroom, doing our best to not block the doors. Sheriff Hodge is on the stand claiming flat out he didn’t have nothing to do with that Shepherd girl being run down, couldn’t have, on account of he’s nowhere near the school that day, but over in Memphis on police business, which he says he can’t let on about on account of the sensitive nature. Claims the two girls must have took his car for somebody else’s.

“Youngsters like them,” he says, “Is prone to getting it wrong when it comes to being eye witness to events such as this.” Looking over at the two girls, he says, “And I ain’t suggesting nothing here, but kids is also prone to fibbing on occasion, specially when it comes to what you call your athriaty figures.” Then he claims he’s doing everything he can to find the real culprit and bring him to justice as is his sworn duty.

While Hodge is going on about all this Judge McCain’s eyeing a fly about to land on the papers in front of him. Finally swats it and studies his hand and says, “I got no choice but to take the word of man sworn to uphold the law over that of a couple of schoolgirls.” And he raps his hammer on his desk and that’s that.

The whole time I notice the Judge never once sets his eyes on Lucie Shepherd, the girl’s mom. All the while I see her staring at the flag to the left of the Judge and when he says about Hodge upholding the law she just looks over at her son and from where I’m at all the way in the back of the room, plain as day I hear her say, “You can’t expect no different, when it comes to folks like us.”

McCain gives her a look like he’s about to say something, but instead climbs down from his perch and leaves by the back door he came in on.

Lucie’s son being only five, asks her could they stop in Christian’s for a penny candy. Then he asks since his Sis ain’t there on account of her going to heaven to be with Jesus, could he have hers too.

*

The Widow Mrs. Jake Stamp tromps her big old self up the steps to Miller’s Store, poking this one and that one with her cane to let her pass, and reaching the door, turns to us, says, “You men should ought to be ashamed! You’re a disgrace to the white race!”

Donny Blue Crow looks to say something, but thinks better of it and takes another long sip out of his jar.

Dud Fazenbaker tosses his empty long-neck Bud into the street, and says to nobody in particular, “They claim they put a motherfucker on the damn moon, how come the fuck they can’t get my damn checks to me when they’re posed to?”

“They got no right messing with out in space,” says old Crick, polishing the last of his half pint, “They’re out of line is what. Humans is meant for right where they is. They got no call to be messing with the planets like that.”

Donny Blue Crow looks to be speaking into his jar, says, “Old bitch calling me a white man. Ain’t no cocksucking white man…Chickasaw!” He lets out a whoop and yells, “Chickasaw!”

Dud spits a stream of Red Man, says, “Shut the fuck up Geronimo! You fucking lost! Remember? We white men kicked your fucking injun asses!”

Bug Eyes Humphrey leans forward and pats Dud’s shoulder, tells him, “He don’t remember nothing. Fucking redskin don’t remember to open his damn fly when he pisses!”

*

As usual, Old Crick and Dud Fazenbaker and me are the first paying customers of the day, while the juke box man, Harvey Waters is busy sorting out the red quarters and handing them to Skiddy for priming the box. He takes out a number on what looks like the Decca label, maybe Web Pierce or Brenda Lee, and puts in something on an odd label I don’t know of.

Skiddy sets Harvey a bottle of Old German on the counter and a glass. He’s one of the few prefers the glass to just drinking directly out of the bottle. Mostly it’s the ladies who want glasses.

Skiddy asks him, “You hear about Hodge running down that Shepherd kid?”

“Yeah. I heard something about that,” says Waters, “Heard he got off for it. No surprise there.”

Old Crick mumbles something I can’t make out.

“What’d you expect?” Skiddy says, “They had two kids saw the whole thing. Didn’t mean squat. Hodge says he didn’t do it, old sonofabitch McCain lets him off scot free.”

Crick clanks his empty shot glass down, says, “What the hell a white man’s got to do to get served round here?”

Skiddy pours him another shot and lifts and shakes Crick’s PBR to see is he ready for another.

“Like I say, no surprise,” Waters says.

“Law is posed to be for the protection of the people,” Dud says, gulping down the last of his Bud, “Yeah, right.”

“They took up a collection at the First Baptist last Sunday for a stone. That Shepherd woman don’t have a pot to piss in. All them kids hanging on her. No old man helping out,” Skiddy says.

“Don’t seem like there is any law no more,” Waters says, “The foxes is in the barn and the door’s already closed.”

Crick polishes his shot and takes a swig of the PBR. “Every man for himself,” he says, sliding off his school, and stumbling toward the head on those arthritic knees of his.

Dud says, “Last I hear they still had her old man up at Lansdown. Armed robbery, wasn’t it?”

“Who can keep track?” Skiddy says, “Yeah, this time I believe it was armed robbery.”

“How folks like that get by is beyond me,” Waters adds.

He puts down the empty, tugs the frayed bill on his Massey-Ferguson ball cap, and shakes another Camel out of the pack.

Skiddy grabs an Old German out of the cooler and replaces Water’s empty, then remembers he forgot to turn on the Pabst sign.

“I best be finishing my route,” Waters says. He takes one final long gulp to polish the second bottle, “Whatsit they say? Time and trouble don’t wait on nobody.”

*

I’m out front of Miller’s leaning under the hood with a flat-edged Stanley on the solenoid to get the Valiant started, when I see Old Crick and Bug Eyes Humphrey stumbling out of Skiddy’s. They both seem so shitfaced I can’t tell who’s holding on to who.

Old Crick and Bug Eyes come up on either side of me and Bug Eyes says, “Need a jump?”

“Nope. It should start okay now,” I tell him, bringing down the hood.

“That there jalopy will outlive you,” says Old Crick, “Them Jap shitboxes ain’t got nothing on them slant sixes. Crap they make these days can’t hold a candle to them old Valiants. All comes back to civ-”

I don’t hear the rest on account of the pops of what might could be an engine missing a cylinder or bullets leaving the chamber of a firearm. Bug Eyes wastes no time plopping his fat self down on the far side of the Plymouth, but me and Old Crick just stands there, us both looking over in the general direction of Skiddy’s where it come from.

*

The killing of Durum Brown does not create much of a stir. The Widow Mrs. Jake Stamp claims she saw the whole thing and that it was another nigger what shot him. Only when Sheriff Hodge asks what did he look like, all she tells him is he just looked like a nigger and that Hodge ought to know darn well one looks the same as another to a respectable white woman of means, such as herself.

Most folks have come to be use to them blacks killing each other, though they mostly go about it down in Monkey Holler, or as they call it these days, Carver Valley. You say Carver Valley to an old timer, he’ll just look at you. It’s the new arrivals buying up them new homes over in Juniperville calls it Carver Valley. Only it ain’t Juniperville no more neither. Where they’s at is Highland Heights, only it’s really just Juniperville but that ain’t high tone enough, so they give it some new name to go along with the big time money they’s paying for them houses.

They come taking up all the high paying jobs at the CONRAC Industries. Used to be the Crenshaw Mill before CONRAC come along. CONRAC buys it up and busts up the union, brings in a new set of young white folks to run things and shitcans the white folks been there for years, hires a bunch of porch monkeys and a few injuns to do the actual work, and pays ‘em peanuts.

One story has it that the killing of Durum Brown was revenge. That Mrs. Jake Stamp got it all wrong, it weren’t a black at all but a dark white man what shot him, some working man CONRAC got rid of, going off the handle, shooting the first nigger he sees. Might be, but Sheriff Hodge ain’t brung nobody in as yet, and it don’t appear he’s about to.

*

Old Crick come by the place of a Sunday morning, says about the heat spell we’re having and this and that, then says, “What with this heat, a person sure gets him a thirst.”

Being it’s just nine and Stell don’t abide drinking in the house before noon, mostly joking and knowing damn well what it is he’s needing, I ask would he like a glass of water.

Old Crick grins, says, “You mean for a chaser?”

I tell him the whereabouts of that bottle I keep out back, hand him the key and say to him to be sure and do his drinking right there in the shed, and not out in the open, on account of if Stell sees him she’ll go on the warpath. I point to where Stell is at, doing up some bacon in the kitchen, and tell him, “We’ve been getting along pretty fair of late and the last thing I need is some old drunk gumming up the works!”

He screws up his face, says, “One of these days you might could borry the pants off of her and swap ‘em for that dress you got on, just to see do they fit!”

Old Crick don’t have no woman, lives out near them old warehouses off Center, just him and his dogs. If memory serves, might have been Dud Fazenbaker what told me there was some woman way back when, with a young girl. Big woman, not bad looking, to hear him tell it, but for her size. Come to town with the kid every now and then for essentials. All this must have been before my time.

Actually, maybe it wasn’t Dud, might could have been Bug Eyes told me. Anyhow, comes a time the word is the child took sick, maybe died, and the woman’s not seen no more. I believe it was Bug Eyes told me, not Dud. But whoever, old Crick himself never has said nothing about it and it ain’t the type thing you bring up to a person, specially a cantankerous old fart like Crick.

*

            We have been getting on pretty fair of late, Stell and I. Mostly cause I finally give in and she stopped taken her birth pills and I been keeping my fingers crossed. Once I get started I forget all about it, but then when I finish it come back to me. There’s no way we could have a kid. In the first place, we’re at this point in time getting by on Stell’s waitress money from the barroom over at the Legion plus my two hundred eleven dollar unemployment, since I got shitcanned from pearl diving at Ruby Tuesday’s for drinking on the job, on account of the asshole assistant manager Jason claimed he smelt it on my breath, when all’s I had was a sip of this girl Evelyn’s Bud, who at that time I was sort of friendly with. And on account of it’s been almost a year now, I believe I’m only one or two more checks short of finished, and you can’t hardly pay for a kid on what we got coming in, less you want to live like low-rent white folks.

But Stell wants a kid real bad, keeps saying how we’re not really a family with no kid, something she gets from the television, no doubt from those same ladies’ shows such as Joey’s Barb looks at. Thing is I care about Stell, I really do, and I want to do right by her. Plus, like I say, them checks of mine is going to run out in another week or two, and then where the hell am I without Stell’s tip money.

But a kid?

After tonight’s lovemaking with Stell I’m wide awake, whereas mostly all’s I want’s a smoke and then sweet dreams. But tonight for some reason, like I say I’m still raring to go for another round only she rolls over and don’t want no part of no more.

So I hit the hall light and march into the kitchen and polish the last of my fifth of Comfort, then grab the key and a flashlight and make my way over to the shed for my bottle what I keep for emergencies. I don’t see the empty on the floor until I kick it by accident after I lift the tarp.

Damn Crick! Bars closed hours ago. Now I got to drive clear across the County Line to find a packaged liquor place still open.

*

            I had just got took on temporary working graveyard at Livewell’s Chemical, so’s all’s I know is what I hear from Stell, who happens to be off from her waitressing at the Legion on that particular Tuesday evening. The way she tells it, it’s after midnight and she’s looking at a rerun of “Peyton Place” on the television when Joey come banging on the door yelling he wants the key to our shed. She asks him how come he needs it and he says on account of he needs his gun, pronto!

Well at first Stell believes him to be loaded up, though she don’t smell no liquor on him. But how he is, after a bit of listening to him carry on, she comes around to the idea that the best thing to do is to get the damn key and show him once and for all there ain’t no gun to be had in there.

So she finds a flashlight and the long and the short of it is he finds that box what you’d put your important papers in if you had any, but no gun. Now Joey’s really going off, to hear Stell tell it.

“That motherfucker you married stole my gun! Probably sold it! Damn motherfucker!”

Stell relates to me how he’s carrying on so she can’t figure what’s got into him. Only thing she can figure is maybe he’s gone and got himself tanked after all, but she’s never knowed Joey to be much of a drinker, plus she don’t smell nothing. Then she considers maybe he’s on the dope.

“I kill that lying motherfucker! And that good-for-nothing husband of yours besides!” he tells her, then goes stomping off back to his home place.

*

            After hearing all accounts Judge McCain decides it’s a case of self-defense what resulted in Joey receiving a leg full of buckshot on the part of Dud Fazenbaker after Joey looks to come at him with that steak knife, and the Judge has Joey being sent upstate to the Farm in Parchman soon’s they get through learning him to walk again at Christ Child.

During her turn, Joey’s wife Barb has her friend Lucille hold the baby while she claims to the judge there weren’t nothing going on between herself and Dud, that it was all in Joey’s head.

Judge can’t hardly hear her on account of how the baby’s going off while Lucille does what she can to try to quiet him down. Barb steps down and Lucille hands her the baby back and takes a handkerchief from her sleeve to wipe at the drool on her dress where the baby was at.

Joey hobbles up on his crutches and swears otherwise, that he knowed for a fact Dud was having his way with Barb, on account of finding Dud’s IH ball cap under the bed. McCain can hear Joey fine now as there’s not a peep out of the baby at the present time, no doubt on account of he’s back with his mom.

It’s Dud’s turn and he has to speak up loud, as once again the baby commences to howl like a coyote and Barb finally has Lucille take him out of the courtroom, to the gallery in front of the courthouse from which the little bugger’s complaints can still be heard on the inside plain as day.

Dud swears that ball cap weren’t his, that he lost his ball cap coming home from Skiddy’s the night before last, on account of it got blowed off his head by that big wind we had come up, taking down all them branches and whatnot. He claims he never had no designs on Barb or no other female and that he and his wife Connie were just as happy with one another as the day they left the church.

“She’d say the same if she were here,” Dud says, “Only she and the kids are having a visit with her mother in Jackson, at this point in time.”

Us in the back of the courtroom tend to favor Joey’s side of things concerning the hanky-panky, but whichever way you look at it, he’s still the guilty party on account of him going after Dud with the steak knife, which truth be told, each of us would have no doubt done the same under such conditions with no firearm handy, should Dud have been prowling around with one of our own, with the exception of Bug Eyes, who’s a bachelor and as such took Dud’s side of things on that matter over Joey’s.

Lucky for Dud old Crick saw to Joey’s gun before Joey got at it. Not so lucky for old Crick though.

*

            The story has it when the two boys found him laying there in the woods by what was later learnt to be an unmarked grave, the cold had kept old Crick looking much like himself. The one boy, yet another Fazenbaker of no relation to Joey or Dud, told Deputy Skinner they took old Crick to be sleeping at first. There weren’t much blood to speak of and what there was of it wasn’t in plain sight, just the one small hole in the far side of his skull, with some black around it, but how he was laying the boys missed seeing that when they first come upon him. After they got their nerve, one of them gives him a poke is when they get that he ain’t just sleeping and it’s then they notice the gun.

Well, old Crick is by now in one place or another, is my belief. Whichever, he’s no doubt offering his complaints to whoever is calling the shots where he’s at, on how things there is gone all to pot from how they used to be.

*

            Stell come through the door last night and after a considerable bit of hemming and hawing on her part, she let’s out with she’s two months late.

 

 *

Arthur Levine is a writer based in Rockville, MD.

photo by psigrist

Ode to Mist

by Samantha Seo

odetomist_phil roeder-pola
Free spirits soaring in the wind,
spiraling to end of the earth,
always invisible from night.
Autumn leaves flow in painted gust,
I move through fields of daffodils,
wander up prairies and down small hills
as if I was a melody that you created for me.
We race to our hidden spot
tall grasses wave in sunlight.
Prisoners held captive
at our tree fort for make-believe.
The sky buries sunlight, replaces clouds,
dome of air creates silent reflection in water,
to arise and unbuild phantom in dark relief.
With frames of rocks on the sandy shore,
the sunset brushes sandpaper against me.
I hear voices in the wind,
but rain clouds appear, vanished.

*

Samantha Seto is a writer. She has been published in various anthologies including Ceremony, The Screech Owl, Nostrovia Poetry, Soul Fountain, and Black Magnolias Journal.

photo by phil-roeder

Night Laborers

by Ben Bellizzi

nightlaborers_adamliconoclastebanal-pola

When people ask me what I do for work, I never tell them. Sometimes I describe it as freelancing, sometimes as photographic journalism, and sometimes, in my more playful moments, as performance art. People often ask questions without being prepared for the answers, and although those who look on the underside of rocks should expect to find a slug or two, I spare them that reality. Without a touch of arrogance, I can accurately say that I am among the elite of my field, and in the world of professional blackmail, few women have mastered the technique as I have.

Although I’m in my early thirties and my career spans nearly six years, the majority of my work has never made it to press. My poses are so convincing, the photos so sharp and incriminating that the subjects, individuals whose reputations would be ruined if such photos were published, pay top dollar to keep them from the public. While these quick payoffs are the desired effect of my work, I can’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment that such expertise goes unnoticed.

For the most part, successful blackmail depends on catching the subject in an embarrassing act, normally of a sexual nature. However, for a subject who is faithful to his wife and does not frequent prostitutes, a bit of stage work is necessary. A picture of a man in bed with a buxom blond portrays just that, and if the scene is adequately set, no one will ever question its legitimacy. The camera shows no timetable for her visit, nor does it distinguish how she came to be there, just that she was nude and in bed and up to something in the middle of the night.

The majority of our business comes from hotel hits. Once we establish the subject’s location and solitary status, Doug, the cameraman and lock specialist, works on the door while I ready myself for robe removal. When the door flies open, I drop the robe and rush directly toward the bed, while Doug circles the room for his best shot, sometimes mounting a chair or a coffee table for an aerial view. I slide feet first under the covers, sidle up next to the subject, and engage the camera.

It is important to establish the ecstasy shot immediately. No matter how surprised the subject might be at my arrival, a look of uncontrollable pleasure on the girl’s face creates the eroticism in the photographic sequence, even if it is apparent that the man is not in the same euphoric state. For this shot, I make sure that my hair is disheveled and that a few strands fall into my face. The head tilts back, one shoulder thrusts forward, the mouth opens, the lips reach out, one eye is closed, the other one flutters in delight, and the back arches and pushes the breasts to the forefront of the photo. I embellish this pose while Doug shoots away, and then we progress to stage two.

The subjects rarely leave the sanctuary of the bed during these encounters. Of course there have been those who’ve jumped up, scampered toward a closet or simply clutched the wall while Doug’s camera captured their frenetic state, but the fear of bodily exposure normally keeps them under the covers. At this time, we commence with stage two, the shocked shots. I slide close to the subject, pull the comforter over my breasts, and act as terrified and confused as the man beside me. These shots establish my camaraderie with the subject, as we are partners in a shared crime and face our fate together. I like to throw an arm around the subject, to pull him closer to me in order to accentuate the atmosphere of fear and surprise, to allow the camera to catch my arm clutching at my would be lover. These shots are the most intimate, for in their bewilderment the subjects often clutch me back, and for a moment there we are, interrupted lovers holding onto the only things we know to be true while the camera exposes us to the world. There is something romantic, even heroic about these moments, and on more than one occasion, following business negotiations, former subjects have contacted me in hope of establishing a personal relationship. Never once have I accepted one of these proposals, but it is a testament to my professional work that even in these moments when celebrities and politicians and various public figures are under attack from the paparazzi, at the very moment when their careers are taking drastic turns for the worse, they feel a connection to me, something real underneath the façade that the camera captures. One subject, a man of national recognition, courted me for years, sending me flowers and poorly written love poems with such frequency that when his wife found out, she left him. He was a desperate and lonely man, and our shocked shots are some of my finest work to date.

The final shots of the sequence are the runaway shots. These involve me racing from the room, Doug following to catch a leg here, a buttock there, a lock of blond hair disappearing through a doorway. These shots are difficult to catch and are of more artistic value than anything else, and they are so nondescript that we often pull old ones from the archives and reuse them in multiple sequences. At one point I suggested that we scrap the shots altogether and therefore expedite our escape time, but Doug protested: he enjoys the shots too much, the chase of a naked woman through a strange hotel room, and I cannot take that away from him. Doug once harbored dreams of using his quick camera skills to shoot fast-moving wildlife in exotic locals around the globe, and the satisfaction he takes from catching an entire limb or a silhouette running into the night is worth more to him than the most lavish of payoffs. The man is an artist, and he will not be deprived of his art.

After a night of work, Doug and I often go for breakfast at the retro-themed FROCK’S DINER with the flickering neon sign. For years the establishment has been unable to keep the R and the top part of the O illuminated, creating an effect that delights the neighborhood kids to no end. The sign is sabotaged, no doubt.

Nancy, the night waitress, has the wonderfully bitter personality befitting of an aging woman who works during the hours when more fortunate women sleep entwined in their lovers. She greets us with the understanding that occurs between people whose professions provide a common hardship, but her temperament could never be described as congenial. She prefers pointing to speaking, has no aversion to scratching herself in various locations while we order, and often delivers our meals with a cigarette dangling from her mouth, sneering at the no smoking signs in the windows. She is a disgrace, and we would not continue our patronage of Frock’s without the delight that she provides us.

Doug and I will sit in a booth lined with boisterous plastic cushions, sipping burned coffee while we discuss career aspirations that we both accept as unattainable. Never do we utter phrases like “National Geographic” or “Scorsese,” rather we speak of these ideals with the haziness and hopelessness of an infidel dreaming of heaven. We are highly skilled at what we do, but so specialized in our fields that our talents would not produce the same compensation in other, more ethical professions. Our best work is that which will never be seen. We are each other’s muses, each other’s only audience.

As dawn’s first rays sneak into the streets, Doug drops me off at my apartment building, always bidding me farewell with a kiss on the cheek. He stretches across the bench seat as I casually tilt toward him and act as if this is a mere formality to our night. Despite our close professional relationship, Doug has never invited me into his private life. I know that he’s been involved in a handful of serious relationships, enjoys throwing the Frisbee with his dog and attempting to surf, but our friendship is restricted to the cover of night. As he kisses me, I close my eyes and hold still, not wanting to move in any way that would curtail this moment. Sometimes he’ll place a hand on my shoulder, and I savor his touch as if it’s the last I’ll ever experience. When he retreats, I pause for a moment, imagining that his lips are still resting on my cheek, that they are perhaps even crawling over to sprinkle my mouth with the most tender of touches. When I am sure that they are not, I open my eyes, smile at him, and murmur goodnight.

Once inside the building, I climb the stairs to my studio on the third floor. An outsider might describe the apartment as unkempt, but as I walk through it, my own mess contains a sort of perfect order. The running shoes and shorts lie ready beside the door, the yoga mat stretches out in full view of the television, and the pots and pans await the next meal on unlit burners. I run a quick shower and dress for bed while the morning light filters in through the drapes. Years ago I developed the habit of sleeping beneath many layers of clothing, for my naked body used to swim aimlessly amid the sheets, feeling lost and exposed. There was a time when I rarely slept alone, but now I have arrived at the point in my life that when involved in brief, impersonal relationships, I am haunted by the sensation that I’m assembling a puzzle to which I lack the most integral of pieces. The idea of inviting an unfamiliar man into my bed fills me with such apprehension that I no longer regard it an option. My room seems to forever contain a camera and an audience, and I will not allow myself to be caught in such a spectacle. The only man with whom I would consider sharing my private life has already kissed me goodnight, and with our relationship restricted to that of professional partners, I am unwilling to accept substitutions. Instead, I lie ensconced in a cocoon of pajama bottoms and long-sleeved tee shirts, hoping to fall asleep before the bustle of the outside world penetrates my walls.

In the other apartment on my floor, an attractive young couple shares a one-bedroom. I see them from time to time on the stairs, bikes always hanging from their shoulders, either embarking or returning from a glorious adventure. Below me is a family of four, neither child above the age of six. They decorate the outside of their door in accordance with the appropriate seasonal holiday, the exclamatory slogans announcing their celebrations and happiness to all those who pass by. I am friendly with my neighbors and they sometimes invite me to dinner, but within our lives exists such a difference that I cannot possibly accept. As a single adult, you are your work, and I have long been unable to detach myself from mine.

Above me lives Mrs. Dobson. When she moves about her apartment, I follow her cane’s hollow thump on my ceiling as she maneuvers out of bed, across to the bathroom, or into the kitchen. She only leaves the apartment on Tuesdays and Thursdays when the nurse takes her for a walk in the park, and also on the occasional Saturday when her son brings her to the museum. Her invitations for me to join her in the latter of these outings have been relentless, for she believes that her son and I would make a fabulous pair.

On one of these Saturdays, still groggy from a long night’s work, I encountered Mrs. Dobson and her son on the stairs. He was a tall and sturdy man in his late thirties, genuinely handsome, his hands slender yet masculine. His shake was both firm and tender, and I did my best to meet his pressure. He spoke to me with enthusiasm, and I smiled at him politely while I searched for an opportunity to slip back into the safety of my apartment. He said it was a pleasure to finally meet me, and he asked me what I did for work.

After a moment of thought, I said, “I’m an artist.”

He clasped his hands together. “The arts are fantastic,” he said, “I used to take a great amount of pleasure in illustration, but I traded it all in for a business suit. What kind of art do you do?”

His expression was that of someone awaiting good news, and I felt obliged not to dismiss him.

“I work in photography,” I said.

His face again lit up. “That’s wonderful. I’ve always been fascinated with the photographic arts. I’ll bet it brings you much happiness.”

I nodded as I shuffled to the door. I laid a hand on the knob, smiled at both he and his mother as I turned it, and said, “Yes, it does. It’s all I have.”

*

Ben Bellizzi’s fiction has appeared in Monday Night, Prick of the Spindle, and The Dreams of Things, among others, and was included in the “2010 Notable Reading” section the 2011 Best American Nonrequired Reading. He is a graduate of the California College of the Arts MFA program.

photo by adamliconoclastebanal


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