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Jaryck P. Bezak – The Hillside

The Hillside

A warm wind blowing in from the west made the exposed hairs of my legs and forearms sway and move. High in the sky the sun’s heat caused me to stir and slowly wake. My eyes opened and carefully focused on some blades of grass as I followed a small ladybug until she flew away. I was awake now, and fully aware of where I was. I was on top of my favorite hillside, overlooking a stream that ran to a lake a few miles north.  What I was not aware of, was who was with me.

I was laying on my side, my left arm being used as a pillow for a girl I didn’t know, my right arm wrapped around her slender figure. Her hair blew softly with the wind and tickled my nose, bringing with it a beautiful smell I had never experienced. I frantically tried to remember who she was… I walked up here alone from my small apartment to read, and the sun had made me lazy and I drifted to sleep. That much I knew. I really didn’t want to question it though; for I felt at peace and that she was somehow important. I was feeling happy in my confusion, believing that this was a dream, I started to drift back to sleep.

She stirred for a second, turning herself over to face me, and in her half sleep state, she pulled herself closer. I opened my eyes and lost my breath. She was stunning. A rare beauty was staring back at me with eyes that reminded me of an overcast day. She didn’t turn away from my stare, and I couldn’t look away from hers. Continue Reading »

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Hannah E. Phinney – The Living Doll

The Living Doll

My father was an old man. Seventy-seven years he had lived on this planet. One day he complained to me of a headache. It seemed mild at first, but toward nightfall he was massaging his temples, his face wreathed in discomfort. By the next day it had morphed into a meaty migraine, and he told me he heard rustlings in his ears. Clinkings and tinklings. In the evening my poor old pops spoke of whisperings. He said they came from inside his head, and that the voice was a young girl’s.

On the third day, my father was unable to get out of bed. Every time he tried to stand, he fell to the floor, head-first – as if something in there was too heavy, was pulling him down. I took him to the hospital.

The strangest part was that I knew instinctively what ailed him, but I didn’t know how I knew.

In the car, my father began to talk about a bizarre distortion in his visual perception. He said it felt like he was seeing, not double, but doubly: like he was looking at the world with his own two eyes, but also with those of someone much smaller and younger – someone who sat behind his eyes and peered through them like windows. He was perplexed and frightened. I didn’t know what to say to him, so we drove on in silence.

In the doctor’s office, a medic shined light into my father’s eyes and ears.

“Hmm. Quite peculiar. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything like this. We must operate immediately.”

My father looked at me, worry stretched in wrinkled bars across his brow. “Harvey! I’m afraid, Harvey.”

“Don’t be afraid, pops. The docs’ll fix you. It’ll be okay.”

So he went under the knife. The surgeons had to unhinge my father’s face. They made incisions along the top of his forehead, the bottom of his chin, and the left side of his cheek, so they could open his face like a door. Then they stood, mouths agape at what was inside.  

My father’s brain was mostly hollowed out, and in the space previously occupied by that vital grey matter sat a tiny living doll. She had a tiny head crowned by dark brown bangs, and tiny ruby lips. She wore a pale blue dress. She held a miniature teacup. The living doll blinked her exaggerated eyelashes at the doctors in bewilderment.

The first surgeon to snap out of his shock shook his finger at her and said, “Alright, missy. Play time is over. We need to get you out of there.” Continue Reading »

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Mitch Grabois – Painter

Painter

When I graduated high school I figured I’d spent enough time sitting at a desk. I thought about everything I’d learned in school and out, and figured that my most salable skill was painting houses. I was living in L.A., which made house painting possible year-round, unlike Michigan, where one of my cousins lived, where winter shuts down the world.  

I got a truck, a ladder, brushes, got cards printed, gave them to my friends’ parents. Word- of-mouth took care of the rest. Some friends came back for holidays and said: You’re smart. You could have made something of yourself. But every day I renew the world. I take old surfaces and refresh them, put gladness in the hearts of homeowners and neighbors and even people just driving down the street. I don’t trouble myself with ideas. At lunch I sit against an unpainted wall and chew the sandwiches my wife puts together. I scribble notes to myself like this one and sometimes on the ladder, I wonder why I do it.

But then, I forgot my language. Tanks rolled over it. It cannot raise itself like a cartoon character squashed flat. It cannot blow itself back up with a cartoon bicycle pump. I am as mute as if I’ve had a stroke. I am split in two, like my country, for the sake of others’ greed . My country is green and flat and poor. We drink more booze than any people on Earth. We sell our organs for bread.

We killed most of the Jews. The rest of them ran away, the ones who could have helped us. There was one Jew who defeated polio. He lived somewhere in Europe, or maybe in the United States. Jews can do miraculous things, but we killed most of the ones we had,  and caused the rest to flee. We killed off a national treasure, and now we are poor and drunk and civil war looms. And I have lost my language, as if I’ve had a stroke.

– Mitch Grabois

 

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Thom Mahoney – Queen of the Night

Queen of the Night

She lived in the third floor apartment of a very tall and narrow brownstone at the south end of the District. A spindly tree of indeterminable age sprawled skyward and cast a dark and cool shadow across the building, its branches and leaves reflected in her window, looking so much cooler than the summer night sky it was mirroring.

A long and wide cement staircase tumbled down from double white doors, curving for the last five steps that widened as they reached the sidewalk. A cast iron railing provided guidance and comfort and a feeling of security.

He had been out for a walk that first July evening, clearing his head from something he’d been trying to write, failing miserably, the sickness of the silence digging deeper into him than ever before. The sun had set, the day’s humidity still hung in the air, and he heard her voice long before he could locate her.

He slowed as he approached her building, looking up through the branches of the tree, aware of how suspicious he must appear, his head tipped back, his eyes searching the windows of the apartment building. And when he located her open window, the source of the magic, he backed against the wall created by the tumbling staircase and listened in the darkness of the shade-tree and the stillness of the night.

And when she was finished with the aria, he stood there a long time, hoping, waiting, eager for more. But there was no more.

So he returned the following night, and the night after that, and all of the nights for the remainder of the summer and into the fall, tucked with his back against the staircase wall, as she sang spirituals and show tunes, pop and jazz and scat, waiting for her to sing once again the aria he first heard. But she sang one tune each night, and no more.

He wanted to meet her. During his days, he devised plans to be standing at the base of those stairs to greet her, to introduce himself, to learn her name, to explain how she had cured him, saved him, the magic regality of her voice, of her.

Even as the cold rains of winter chased closed all the windows of every building on her street and all those around the District, he stood with his back against the wall created by the tumbling concrete staircase until he, too, was chased away.

And when the New Year and the wet spring had passed, finally, he returned to find her window closed, and he stood with his back to the stairway wall and listened as the night gave way to thumping stereos and roaring motorcycles and lonely cats crying in the alley.

– Thom Mahoney

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Joel Netsky – The Existentialists

The Existentialists

All to him was a morass, a hurly-burly intertwining of decomposition and formation, of crumbling and construction, the eternal transformation of space at every moment. Wherever he looked he saw decline and ascent, the rise and fall of seas past the farthest horizons. Cities crumbled, elsewhere cities rose; into the pits was gravel poured to staunch the demise by being a new ground for new birth, which soon would grey and become mulch.

“What is the purpose of life?”

“According to the Existentialists there is no inherent meaning to the universe except what one gives to it.”

– Joel Netsky

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H.E. Saunders – The Plus Sign

The Plus Sign

She looked at the six shots lined up before her. They stared her down. One, two, three, four, five and six. All vodka. All full to the top and waiting. A lemon-flavored Gatorade stood at the end, the ugly duckling of the bunch. 
 

She had heard that a fetus less than twelve weeks old would not survive six shots of alcohol. It was how all those sorority girls had gone to keggers and fraternity hookups every weekend and rarely taken home a little linebacker. It was just too much for something that fragile. Something that new and pure. It didn’t matter what poison she picked, any one would do the job. She refused to hear the term “aborted” in her head.  

She didn’t know if it was twelve weeks. Less than, or more. It seemed so long since Jake had left and there had been so many men after. Night after night of letting men drown her sorrows and then drowning herself in them. It was comforting in the repetition, in the endorphins, in the release, in the distance. It was comfortable in the night when she knew she wasn’t alone but was still free. It was shaming in the repetition, in the addiction, in the hiding, in the insecurity. It was shameful in the morning when they left without looking back, revealing her to be empty and weak.   Continue Reading »

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Laura Baber – Out Past Where the Mangroves End

Out Past Where the Mangroves End

My name is Sunditi Desai and I am dead. I did not know it, not at first, when I woke to the natural up and down rhythm of the boat on the river. I am the daughter and grand-daughter of fishermen; the neighbor, wife and mother of fishermen. Waking up out here alone didn’t seem so strange to me. It was only when I lifted myself up on the red edged corners of the canoe, and the fancy jewelry we saved for death and marriages bobbed against my earlobes and wrists, did I begin to know the truth of it. I’m 86 years old. I wasn’t getting married.

I rubbed my thumb against the gold bracelets that wrapped around my arms; followed the silver embroidery of a bright white sari I’d never owned; traced the dark spray of moles on the skin of my forearm. Skin that was lusher, plumper, more lovely than any that had been mine for 50 years at least. This is how I knew.

“You’re dead Suniti Desai,” my own voice whispered to me, come up from deep within my bowels. I wondered how it had come to pass, my death. Had it been sudden and violent? Crushed under oxen hooves or fallen from that slat bridge over the gorge? Or was it a slow creep, disease snuck in through an ear canal or an eyelid fluttered open in a dream. I wouldn’t know. Couldn’t. But I could still smell the jasmine garlands they were—my family, friends and neighbors—even now dropping into the river behind me.

I turned back to the shoreline to watch them set the paper boats into the water, each ship burning with a single, lit tea candle. The only light in a night without the sliver of a moon, without even a star to guide me. I could hear them chanting, their voices rising up in unison. Crying and wailing. I did not try to grasp their sounds into my heart. Instead I let their voices carry over the water and break against the wake of my boat, float away on its rippled waves. The life I had lived was already distant and hazy; a childhood dream long since left unattended. Continue Reading »

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