Category Archives: Prose

Sticks and Stones

by Alice Lowe

The room is bare. The furniture gone, rugs, curtains, everything loaded onto a moving van wending its way across the country. My mother, father, brother and I, with a few friends and neighbors, sit cross-legged on cushions on the floor of our empty New York house—my home since birth, now an empty shell—celebrating my sixth birthday.

I see the cupcakes, blanketed in pink frosting. I recall a sugary smell and taste, cloyingly sweet like cotton candy, that I can only describe as “pink.” Mine has a candle. “Make a wish,” someone admonishes, and I blow it out with eyes squeezed shut, hazy unformed hopes for our imminent adventure and the new life to follow. My parents give me a new doll with a cherry-red fur-trimmed matching coat and hat and long, wavy, shiny brown hair that I can brush, dark feathery eyelashes, and a permanently lipsticked crimson pout. So grown-up, so elegant. I name her Moira after a teenage neighbor I idolize.

My brother David and I sing “California Here I Come” around our Franklin Square, Long Island neighborhood in the weeks leading up to our departure. Four days after my birthday—on Columbus Day, which seems to symbolize our own voyage of discovery—we board the TWA prop jet. Lumbering, bumpy, noisy, the sound of the engines is like a jackhammer; I feel it in my teeth. I have a history of motion sickness—my one memory of Manhattan is puking all over myself on a train ride downtown with my father—so no one is surprised when I’m miserably sick on this long rough flight.

My father is a crane operator, having joined his father and two older brothers in industrial construction. In the late ‘30s they worked together on the Whitestone, a suspension bridge across the East River connecting Queens to the Bronx. But now his parents, one of his brothers, and both of his sisters have migrated west with their families and found fresh starts and a more agreeable climate in San Francisco. The siren song beckons; we hitch up our wagon and follow them.

When we box up our belongings, I keep out Baby Boo, the doll I’ve treasured since my toddler days, to be my traveling companion. My mother has crocheted her a buttercup yellow outfit for the trip and a tiny afghan, multi-colored and bordered in green, five squares long and three wide, that I still have sixty years later. Baby Boo has a clunky ceramic head with painted-on baby curls, a little pink bow mouth, and glassy eyes that blink. When you squeeze her rubbery torso she utters a lamb-like bleat. During the final packing for our departure, now in possession of the glamorous Moira, my mother tells me I can bring only one doll on the plane. Without hesitation I dispatch Baby Boo to the suitcase. Later, in the midst of my wrenching, retching ordeal, I shed woeful tears of regret. Moira is long gone, but Baby Boo is still in the family. Relegated to storage as I grow up, she makes her re-entry, with more new hand-made attire, when I give birth to my daughter.

We leave what seems like a storybook life in our serene suburb: a house with a white picket fence, fruit trees and berry vines in the back yard, open fields and a wooded glen where we play, the school where I’m crowned Valentine Queen of my kindergarten class after receiving the most valentines (before the days when you had to give cards to everyone or no one). I spend my early years in a secure bubble where, from my child’s-eye view, nothing awful can happen.

Our destination is the land of omnipresent sunshine, glittering opportunity, and gates of gold. Where, as it turns out, the bubble bursts and everything immediately and inexplicably plummets. Where it’s foggy and gray, damp and cold. Where my father’s work is sporadic and we live in a ratty old house, two stories with rickety steps going up to the front porch, planted in my mind as a hillbilly hovel, cartoonishly dilapidated. Where David and I share a dark and cramped room with bunk beds; he gets the top, being five years older. Bracketed within the two years we live in San Francisco are memories of being gashed and flashed, beaten and bullied. Scenes flash in front of my eyes:

…I’m racing with my cousin across the schoolyard asphalt. I trip and fall, the bridge of my nose smashing against the edge of a wooden bench. Concussed and oozing blood, someone carries me home; my parents worry over me until it’s certain there’s no brain damage. The scar disappears over time, although sometimes, with a magnifying mirror, I see a faint trace. Or do I just imagine it?

…A boy on a bicycle comes straight at me on the sidewalk near home. Before either of us can change course, he slams into me. My face bonks the sidewalk, knocking chunks off my two front teeth. More blood and pain, and chipped teeth that I had to live with for years until my parents could afford to get them capped. .

…Saturday matinee, the smell of buttery popcorn, the thick musty air of the theatre lobby, the glaring lights in the restroom. Two big girls—tough ten-year-olds—smear on Tangee lipstick in front of the mirror. My cousin Patty makes some sassy remark, and they come after us. We race out the door and around the corner, veering off in separate directions. They catch me and smack me around while I flail my arms and whine: “It wasn’t me!” I run home, bawling, my nose and lip dripping scarlet onto my shirt and pants.

…On our front porch, one of my brother’s friends says, “Hey, I got something to show you!” I look curiously as he unzips his pants, then, shocked and horrified, I scramble into the house, too embarrassed to tell my mother—we don’t have a language for such things. The boy laughs and goes back to ignoring me, just David’s pesky kid sister.

…My parents argue a lot, yell at us kids. I remember a spanking, the only one I can recall my mother ever giving me. Can that be? She threatens a lot, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” but she doesn’t follow through. She says that she doesn’t miss New York, but she seems either angry or sad most of the time since we moved.  I guess I caught her on a bad day, with what Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s called the “mean reds.”

…My aunt and uncle live on the next block in a big modern house with a rec room in the basement. They lord it over us while professing love and support, never letting us forget that my uncle is now a businessman who wears suits and sells insurance in the city while my father scrapes for construction jobs. My aunt sinks verbal scissors into my mother with a squinty-eyed self-satisfied smile, criticizing her manner and the way she dresses, her housekeeping and her parenting. She compares David and me, soiled and scrawny, dark Jewish urchins, to her daughters, our cousins, blonde and blue-eyed in their curls and starched white communion dresses. It’s not true what they say about sticks and stones. Words, when used as daggers of derision, can hurt more; they pierce and wound.

It isn’t all bad. I can call up some bright spots too.  My love of the piano begins here when a family friend, “Aunt” Hazel, gives me lessons and lets me practice at her house. And there’s the Old Clam House where my father takes me, just me, I don’t know why, but that’s what makes it memorable. I see and smell it: dark, seedy and rundown, the air redolent of beer and cigarette smoke. We sit at the bar—my legs dangling from the hard wooden stool—and he lingers over a beer while we sip from mugs of steaming clam juice and nibble crunchy oyster crackers.

And I love living near my grandparents, my father’s folks. They seem like storybook characters—sweet and old, gray and plump—yet they’re not that old, 60ish probably, younger than I am now. But Grandma has tightly-permed old-woman-blue hair and a stout shelf of a bosom; she wears hats with veils and teases me about sticking hatpins into her head to hold her hats on. When I’m 19 or 20, in San Francisco with a friend, I visit Gram and her “boyfriend” Herbert in her walk-up apartment on Market Street. She offers me a highball, and I preen in my pseudo-adulthood.

During our second summer, with the relentless Bay Area fog and bad fortune hovering over us like a big sooty balloon, we drive down to Solana Beach, where another aunt and uncle live in small-town tranquility, and where the sun seems to have been hanging out all along. It’s a mecca of cerulean skies and sandy beaches, where the living just might be easier. The prospects are promising enough for my parents, and we drive back to San Fran for whatever time it takes to close that chapter, to gather up our belongings and head south.

The mishaps come to an end. Of course they could have happened in New York or in San Diego, but they didn’t, and we let San Francisco shoulder the blame. The pain of those assaults and accidents fades like their bruises and takes its place among childhood rites of passage. My brother and I continue to nurse a grudge against our aunt and uncle, like a sore spot in your mouth that you stick your tongue into to see if it still hurts. And then it’s gone, and you don’t even notice when it stops.

David brings out some family photos from those long-ago days to show to our grandchildren. None show the legendary house, so I can’t confirm or correct my memory of its shabbiness. But there we are, the two of us, not quite the “Our Gang” rejects I’ve been holding in my mind. He’s gangly, in the midst of a growth spurt, with ankles and wrists sprouting from his clothes; I’m a scrawny little mouse, big teeth, bony limbs, stringy pigtails. My bangs and his crew cut look like our mother used her teeth to trim them. But we’re grinning as if life couldn’t be better. Or so it seems, the photo fixed in time, the memory transient and changeable.

San Francisco is now my favorite weekend getaway, the childhood memories—both bitter and sweet—relegated to a closet in my mind like a shoebox full of old letters. On a recent visit, my husband and I meander through the Mission District and into adjacent Bernal Heights. It wasn’t the plan, but now that we’re here I’m curious, eager to confront my ghosts, see if they still have fangs. The once-squalid neighborhood is thoroughly gentrified, brandishing the requisite bistros and boutiques, specialty shops, art galleries, and Pilates studios. It’s all strange until we reach Cortland Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, and it all comes back—a right turn at this intersection, then a left and another right onto Banks Street. The school and its asphalt playground are still there, but most of the block has been renovated, the houses rebuilt or replaced with condo and apartment complexes. Our old house is gone, swept away with its cloud of doom. The memories are neutralized; they can go back in the closet.

Back to the Table of Contents

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Issue 7, Non-Fiction, Prose

Journey of the Generations

By Moria Attias

I cannot say when this journey began. Perhaps it was when we were in the car, or maybe earlier when the date was set. Perhaps it’s even earlier, when it was scheduled the time before, and the time before that one, and the first time as well. Maybe it’s a two-year-old journey, from the moment my mother started her dialysis treatment.  Or is it a ten-year-old journey, beginning with the treatment for breast cancer my mother received, which damaged her kidneys. Perhaps it’s a fifty-year-old journey, back to when my grandfather died from the same illness. If so, I have no idea how far in our family tree it goes or when it stops, since it seems this is my heritage as well, like the artistic hand the three of us share, my grandfather, my mother and myself. No one in our family has it, like no one has our blood type. I prefer to start telling of this journey from the morning of the surgery, a Wednesday morning, the 16th of March 2011.

I was attending interviews all over the north on Monday and Tuesday, and I awaited another one scheduled on Thursday as well. When I woke up that morning I expected a day off, interrupted only for a few hours by the quest of taking my little cousin from kindergarten home, at quarter to four in the afternoon. My sister, stubborn as a rock, did not wake up that morning. She volunteered earlier to join our mother and to be with her during the surgery, which was set for the fourth time already in Zefat’s hospital. The purpose was to take out a tube in my mother’s chest, used in order to replace my mother’s blood with a clean one. She had another one in her arm, serving the same purpose, so she didn’t need this one as well. Since I was already awake by nine, I took my sister’s place and not long after ten, we were all in the car and father drove it up to Zefat.

The way up there was difficult for my father, who only a week earlier had surgery himself to remove a lump of cancer from his leg. I was there with him that day, when he was subdued with morphine. That was also the day my sister told me a kidney was found for mother. The transplant was what we were waiting for these past two years. When my sister told me that, we were walking on the bridge connecting the hospital my father was in to a mall, over the too many roads below. My sister said, “We need to start saving money.”

What for?”

They found a kidney for mom.”

Really?

Yes. The surgery will be in Russia. They found her some donor.”

Who? The macher?”

Yes.” We were half way over the bridge and I was more worried than happy, perhaps because of the somber tone of my sister. I expressed some concern about the way it will all happen, and how can we trust them to give her a good kidney in Russia, where horror stories come from. My sister said we should not worry about it, yet when I talked to father about this he simply shrugged, saying there is not much to be done but to trust our insurance company.

By the time we got there we were all irritated, after reminiscing about the past attempts of my mother to do this surgery there. Father didn’t want to go all the way into the hospital because of his throbbing leg, so he left us in the entrance and drove away to visit his aunt in the village of Shamai not far from there. While my mother and I were sitting and waiting (we waited for two hours), she expressed her complaints about this place, how neglected it is and swore this is the last time she is coming all the way there for this surgery. If it won’t happen today, she said she will do it elsewhere. I thought the architect did a great job, making the hospital feel like a box of glass to those who were inside of it, a box of glass in the midst of a mountain chain.

Mother and I read a daily newspaper we found there together and talked somewhat about politics. Somehow we got to the subject of her fellow patients in the round, twelve-bed room of the dialysis treatment. She said that the Arab ladies who come there never speak to anyone besides their daughters, and that they are always there with one of their daughters. I asked her if she feels jealous of them, that they always have company during the four-hour treatment, twice and even trice a week sometimes. My mother said that sometimes she does. “Sometimes it’s better when you have someone to talk to, and you don’t need to call the nurse for every move you want to make. You know, since I can’t move my right arm.” I knew.

Finally we were moved to the surgery area, which I claimed should have been more secured and closed to the curious eyes of every guest. It wasn’t so, and I understood any complaint about the state of neglect the hospital was in. It took some time, as expected, until we got in and were separated by the most unstable doctor I have ever seen. He had a limp and seemed to twitch every now and then. I was left alone with the other guests, whom I learned to despise after only five minutes of eavesdropping on their conversation. A skinny, blind, frog-face woman was talking about her plastic surgeries, and how she managed a doctor husband, which I did not mind much until she started telling racist jokes to an elderly couple. When stressed, I tend to develop hate towards uncaring company around me.

When my mother came out only thirty minutes later she said she felt dizzy and can still taste the anesthesia. She said that the nurse was right to call the action of this surgery “pulling out.” It seems the twitching doctor had some difficulty pulling out the tube and he had to pull hard. The image of a grandfather pulling a carrot out of the ground came to my mind. It didn’t take long until we were back in the first room for a short rest. Father was with us shortly afterwards, and before we were back in the car we grabbed a bite to eat at the hospital’s cafeteria.

Soon you will be able to eat anything you please,” I reminded my mother. The treatment not only meant exchanging her blood twice a week, but included also a diet my mother had a hard time keeping.

Watermelons and mushrooms.” Some of her favorites.

Bananas and melons.” She said in response, adding some other favorites she misses. I thought of salt. She was not allowed to eat salty foods, something she missed even more since she doesn’t like sweets at all.

Soon.” I said.

When we got home and after I made her a small dinner according to the diet’s prescription, I asked her if she is excited about the surgery, about traveling all the way to Russia. Surprisingly, she answered she was not. “I will probably get excited when it will be closer, or when I will actually be there.” She said. “Right now I don’t see a reason to get excited.”

A journey ends, only for another to begin. When does a journey end? Is it when you are back at home after a long day outside in a strange place? Is it when you finally find what you where looking for? Or perhaps it is when you defeat an enemy? All of the enemies? Perhaps it’s when you lay to rest eventually, when you die and the journey of your life ends. Perhaps it never ends, and your genetic package keeps moving on, from generation to generation, from grandfather to grandchildren, forever moving, forever changing, forever in a journey.


 

Leave a comment

Filed under Issue 6: Creative Non-Fiction, Prose, Short Story

How to Have Jet Lag

by Carolyn Nash

How to Have Jet Lag

1. The first night you go to a restaurant on the other side of town. The streets smell like gasoline and smoke, and everyone stares at your white skin like it’s a cancer. You walk with your hands in your pockets. Even after dark, it’s so hot your chin sweats. The restaurant has rotating fans that exchange the fire heat of the kitchen with the slow, sloppy humidity outside. Your noodle soup costs $1.50 and tastes like wet beef jerky. Your mango juice costs $1.00 and tastes like mango. There’s a sheet of glass over the table and as you eat, you watch small bugs scurrying beneath it, chewing at the wood.

2. You wake up at three in the morning. Your heart flutters like a paper snowflake and you know you will not sleep anymore. You check the window twice to be sure the street lamp isn’t the sun. Eventually you go downstairs and sit in the front room of the hotel. The two boys from the front desk are sleeping on the floor. You pick past them quietly and steal a pack of cigarettes from behind the counter. You sit on the desk and smoke until the night starts to shift, as though someone is draining the air of its inky darkness. Your exhaled plumes become visible in the first light. One of the front desk boys wakes up and when you offer him a cigarette, he is so happy he smiles until breakfast.

3. At four in the afternoon, your legs feel swollen and water-logged. A cat nap, you tell yourself.

You shut off the alarm at six. You shut off the alarm at seven thirty. You shut off the alarm at eight and don’t reset it.

At three in the morning, you wake up.

4. The next evening you go across the street for a beer and there is a drunk American lounging in the middle of the bar. He turns up the television volume so that Seinfeld plays louder than the call to prayer. He speaks bad Spanish to a Spanish girl who doesn’t want to talk to him. Then he finds a thin Indonesian girl in a denim skirt. He throws his wallet on the floor and when he picks it up, he crawls on all fours until his head is between her legs. He looks up at her pussy and grins. Then he sits back in his chair and laughs.

You no longer want your beer, so you go back to the hotel. In the room, your phone rings. It’s the boy from the front desk. He asks you if you would like to go dancing with him. No, you say. He asks if you would like to practice your Indonesian. No, you say. Ten minutes later he knocks on your door. Would you like a massage? he asks. You ask him to go away. Maybe I can sleep with you tonight? he asks. You shut the door.

5. You lay in your bed without moving. It is three o’clock in the morning. Then it is one minutes later. Then it is another minutes later. You remember when that was how you thought about the drugs: one more day, and I’ll be one day clean. One more day, and I’ll be two days clean. You wait for the call to prayer and when it comes, you stand up. You pour buckets of cold water over yourself and scrub the sweating imperfections of your body. Then you go outside.

The streets are empty and wet; it must have rained all night. Instead of the fuel and the smoke, you taste earth, water, the raw potato smell of new air. A man peddles by with bottles of warm soy milk in his bicycle basket. His bare chestnut toes look leathery, like the skin of a racehorse. You hear the slim noise of his gears as he works he way up the road, his legs pumping and pulsing like a sewing machine.

He is wearing a hat and when he cycles past your dusty curb, he doesn’t even see you. You think of all the habits and rhythms that transpire each day, without you. The world feels solid, a body that is loyal to a measure of time fuller and richer than your clock can count. You go back to your room and sleep until breakfast.

Back to the Table of Contents

Leave a comment

Filed under Issue 5: The Far East, Prose

Ferris Wheel

by Colleen Eren

He gestures for me to enter quickly . A cigarette between two fingers, his arms are a dark green jungle of tattooing. A few whistles from those in line behind me ends my hesitation. I slide into the ferris wheel car with its half-blinking bulbs and rusted bar and feel a pinch. Torn vinyl seating scratches my legs. He jams the bar down across my lap and I wonder how long he has been working these cheap nighttime festivals with funnel cakes and ring-tosses and drunk teenagers. His face is hard and wrinkled, the thinning hair pulled back in a rubberband.

The car jerks forward and up in a swoop. A cacophony of grinding wheels, as the obstreperous voices in the cars above grow louder. “Holy shit!” Popcorn falls between the metal beams to the cement below.

I am the only one alone, and with a delicious sense of artistic solitude I seek the deepening blue skies above the neon lights of the carousel tent, seek the delicate marine wind above the fulsome waves of fried sausage burnt sugar hotdogs and popcorn. Another lurch forward and up. And another. And up…

Suspended on top, I swing, and have lost the sound of the others. Beyond my vision, the sea is there, exhaling salt and the promise of the unknowable. A dull white noise is all that remains of the crowd below. I resist looking over the side, having consigned my life to the man with the tattoos.

His cigarette’s done

next one tucked above his ear

I get in line again

Back to the Table of Contents

Leave a comment

Filed under Issue 4, Poetry, Prose

A Feast for the Senses

by Michael L. Scott

How do you breathe beauty into tears and dry their rivers with the dancing sunlight of your fruitful smile? I
dissolve in your presence and evaporate in your silent departures. I whispered to the evening star of your ivory skin and the tree sap beauty seeping out of you. My senses bathe in you. She. You. The center of time that the hands of clocks circulate and scream for at midnights hour. Questions cannot burrow in love hardened and warmed by overwhelming certainty. I lived thus far, in queue. Emerald eyes gained shine in your arrival and a soul’s door came unlocked. Dusty worries settled on uneven desires, we can let the candles burn so true, the wax will refuse to creep away from burning truths. The angels carry envy that rusts their wings with moss.  Perfection knows no duplication, nor should it. You tattoo love into the air with every breath taken. Am I so deserving? I must ask, as you spoil my senses in our falling star moments.

Back to the Table of Contents

Leave a comment

Filed under Issue 2, Prose

High Hopes

by Ahuva Goldstand

It was as if nothing but her laugh, that unmistakable, unforgettable laugh and a smoky Guinness could cure me. And this stupid wonderful world, like a well meaning child who cannot help but muddy everything up. Who innocently picks up your brand new favorite thing, and gets it sticky and unfixable. And then the world stares right back at you, nonplussed, wondering “What ever have I done wrong?”

The truth is I could not attempt to answer that question, not truthfully, not accurately. Somewhere in between everything and nothing. More than a universe of thought, and less than the smallest fraction of a dream. And yet, for all my love of words, I could not phrase it, could not formulate it faithfully or certainly. She would know, though.

She would look right into me, right into my bluesy soul, hum with grumbling bass and a wailing guitar that could hit that note that makes you weep. And she would smile.

“You know?” I would ask, but it wasn’t really a question. She would raise her beer to mine. “To Life.”

And she would laugh.

Back to the Table of Contents

1 Comment

Filed under Issue 2, Prose

Two Fragments

By David Stromberg

Fragment 1

I once knew a young man who wanted to write a story about disappointment.  The story was to be set in biblical times, centered around obscure characters, and involve an intricate plot.

I offered the young man to go and tell his idea to some editors around town, some of whom were also rabbis.

They listened to the whole careful outline, all the while shaking their heads.  “We can’t publish such a story,” they’d say.  “No one wants to read about something that doesn’t happen, especially if it’s set in an era to which they can’t relate.”

“But it’s a modern story,” I argued on the young man’s behalf, “transposed into the past.”

“Maybe it is,” they answered, “but who wants to read about something that doesn’t happen today?”

With these same comments we left one editorial office and went to another, until an entire day had passed.  In the late evening, I apologized to the young man for our lack of success.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “it’s just a disappointment.”

Fragment 2

I’d like to talk about the playground: any playground you remember.  On this playground there are many children.  There are boys and there are girls, maybe forty in all.  There are three or four adults present. You’re sitting on a bench in the corner of this playground.

With you is a friend, a friend that’s a boy.  If you are a girl on the playground, you are probably the only one hanging out with a boy.  If you are a boy, you are a loner and have only one friend.  Either way, you have been set apart from the rest of the group, and are left to your corner.

From that corner, you see a girl being hit by another girl.

Your friend says to you, “Angela isn’t nice.  She’s always picking on her friends.”

“Yeah,” you say, “she sucks.  You shouldn’t pick on your friends.”

“You shouldn’t pick on anyone,” says your friend.

Back to the Table of Contents

Leave a comment

Filed under Issue 1, Prose