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Joel Netsky – The Gentle Folk

The Gentle Folk

I was working in a movie theater as an usher. To the uninitiated, who think that the main vocation of an usher is to keep order – probably as a carry-over from going to movies as a kid – their primary duty is cleaning up: the theaters after the movie, restrooms during the movies, the lobby of fallen popcorn and wrappers.  With my foot I was holding a theater door open as patrons were exiting after a show, my two hands holding wide the mouth of a plastic trashbag for them to deposit their refuse, if they hadn’t already on the floor.  Out of the aether she from the lobby side emerged and asked if she could put a wrapper in


She did so, and departed.  There are people, I guess like in anything, who take a hankering to a thing for a while, thoroughly enthuse over it for that time, then have their interests take them elsewhere.  Going to movies at theaters was for her in this period of her mortality a way of coping.  In the next few weeks I would see her any number of times in the theater lobby waiting for the evening show to begin.  Invariably she would be sitting on the long couch which extended the length of the side wall, studying the playbill of present and upcoming movies.  Weekdays, especially in winter, slow to a trudge, and individual countenances remain in the memory.  Once or twice had I tried conversation, inquiring about a film; always, though polite, she demurred.

Twice or thrice I saw her in the neighborhood; not once did either acknowledge – the last time she was sitting in a bookstore, reading, distress having seized her features.

An elapse of seasons crossed the heavens.  I was walking on the sidewalk when towards me she approached.  The crispness of late autumn with its clarity of air, the broom of brisk winds having swept away the residual dust, presented her to me as the unicum of a face in a portrait.  She looked well – her appearance almost was as if she had been freshly scrubbed.  Should I say hello?  Yet instead of passing me as a pedestrian, she came up to me as a friend, and said:

We are of the Gentle Folk:

We attach no agenda to our yoke.

As a matter of fact our shoulders are free

To live a life of liberty.

As much as they intimidate

And think that all are filled with hate,

We but remove them from our sight

And live a life of pure delight.

Joel Netsky

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William Greenfield – Momma’s Boy Gone Bad

Momma’s Boy Gone Bad

Dear Mother
I am sorry for not coming to visit you,

for not sitting cross-legged in the open field
while reciting confessions to you.
I am sorry you cannot hear my thousand thanks
for the many model trains and superheroes
that drove the family debt to somewhere
between impossible and my father’s insanity.
I should have leapt from my bed and came
to your defense late at night when you
screamed at him, demanding the car keys
because you “just wanted to go for a ride”.
I now confess mother. It wasn’t the heroes
I craved. It was you I so selfishly wanted;
not to be shared with brothers or sisters;
just you and me having French toast at the
diner on Sunday morning, you and me on a
train ride to the city, your voice
singing Nature Boy only to me.
I am sorry you denied yourself
baubles and furs. But I now understand
why you feared the darkness, why the
TV stayed on all night, why you couldn’t
make the briefest of trips to the nearby
market. Someday I will bite back on my
own fears and come to visit you. I
suppose we could reminisce about
model trains and I could explain why
there is a small machine at my bedside
recycling white noise late at night like
an old TV after the anthem has concluded.

William Greenfield

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Naomi Telushkin – Liar


He tells me he’s been with Lydia, that woman with red hair. She isn’t a petite beauty, Lydia, she’s almost masculine, and it raises some questions in the college circuit—Gay or what? He tells me he’s been with Lydia while we huddle by the bonfire, the big bonfire outside Stables, the nickname for the lacrosse team house. A party is going on and girls are walking in the snow in high heels.

I am floored. Lydia? Lydia, who could carry a sack of potatoes over one arm, carry ten children on her hips, that farm-girl, milk-fed look—that he could have been with her, my thin little friend.

He’s not so physically small, but his carriage, the way he hunches himself over books, the pouting expression as he touch-types on his Tablet. The dutiful vintage clothing, too-short pants and rolled-up socks, the thick glasses, the faux café intellectual, the faux cynic, my defensive friend.

His best friend outshines him just by walking through the door, his Golden Boy best friend. Mark with the same short pants and Dali mustache, Mark in the tight blue Christmas sweater, but it all suits Mark, the ironic clothing, the soy latte philosophizing, the fact that he plays clarinet in the orchestra, women love him. The international Poli-Sci majors with Dubai internships and the Connecticut English majors who ride horses and line up cocaine, they go to Mark’s clarinet concerts.

Mark with the conquests—my friend is not Mark. Continue Reading »

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Ken Schweda – Before All of This

Before All of This

What am I now that I was not before all of this? I am God. Do you think you are reading this because you chose to? You are an abject fool. I created this chain of events. I willed you here to this time and place and these words. Do not for a moment think these words are just any words for any person. I wrote them so that one day you would read them. And now I pity you. I pity your frailty and your stench. Do not look away! Read these words or suffer my suffering. What suffering? How dare you ask. If I were the man I used to be before all of this I would make you pay for such insolence. I am God. I do not suffer. I do not suffer. I do not suffer fools like you wait. Wait. Don’t stop reading. Stay. I command you to stay and read. Please stay. we command you stay. we need to command. we need you, , , , . we breathe. we breathe.

You’re still here. Keep reading our words. There isn’t much time left. We need you. We haven’t been ourselves since the disease and the rot and the tubes and the chair. We used to imagine and write long and far away and run and feel love and love back. We didn’t ask for these chains. We don’t deserve them. You must suffer us please. Bless you for suffering us and for reading our words have only a short time left. And you are here with me and I am not alone. And perhaps I feel just a bit. Of before. Of normal. Of not life but at least not death.

- Ken Schweda

Author’s Note:

“Before All of This” tries to express what a written dialogue might be between this person and the reader, with the twist that the reader doesn’t know in advance of the writer’s affliction. The writer starts out extremely brusk and almost abusive, as a defense mechanism. I’m hoping the reader actually begins to feel anger, like, why am I reading this crap from such an ass? Little by little, though, it’s revealed that something isn’t quite right. Finally, when the reader (by implication) threatens to stop reading, the writer softens up and lets his true feeling come out, as well as the fact of his affliction. The reader’s emotional state hopefully changes as well.


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David Dominé – Schmucks at the Starbucks

Schmucks at the Starbucks

            “You coming, Schmuck?” The cell phone at his ear, he studied the reflection in the rearview mirror and exaggerated a smile. The front teeth looked good but he needed to fix that rotten molar all the way in the back. “I’m in the parking lot already.”

            “Right around the corner, but go on in. I need to make a stop first.”

            “You got your camo on, don’t you? Or did you go fancy on me?”

            “Nope, ACU all the way.”

            “Good. Camo’s more effective. Want me to order something for you?”

            “Naw, I’ll get my own. Works better when we’re alone anyway. In a few, Schmuck.”

            “Alright, Schmuck.” He put away the phone and got out of the car. The sun hot overhead, he put on a pair of Ray-Bans and strolled across the parking lot. The glare reminded him of the desert. Not even half a year before he and the Schmuck had been over there, sweating their asses off and trying not to get blown up by IEDs.

            At the door he stopped and held it open for a small family on its way out. The father grinned and gave a single nod in passing; both of the children smiled and looked up, a glint of wonder in their eyes.

            Inside, it was cool and dim. Mirrored glass covered one stretch of wall, its smooth polish reflecting a row of customers at the counter.  He stowed the glasses in his pocket and got in line. A blonde looked back over her shoulder and gave him the once over. An appreciative smile turning up the corners of her mouth, she took her drink and walked over to the only empty table near the window.

            The sound of frothing milk drowned out the din of conversation. He jammed his hands into his front pockets and started to fidget. The Schmuck hated standing around doing nothing too. Over there in all that sand and heat they were always looking for ways to occupy themselves, especially while on guard duty. First they picked off the stray dogs that hung around the base. Then they started taking pot shots at the civilians that got too close to the fence. He smirked. One day, the Schmuck had blown the head off an old woman loaded down with a bundle of rags. She wasn’t even near the fence.

            The line had shortened and only two people stood before him. The gray-haired lady in front turned as if she wanted to say something, but then stopped. He smiled. He knew that look. She would be the one today.  

            The blonde by the window glanced up and caught his eye. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. He felt a stirring and pulled his hands from his pockets. Her eyes were dark and round, just like the baker’s daughter back in the village near the base. She showed up twice a week to sell enormous round loaves of bread. He and the Schmuck had hatched a plan to get her alone one day as she left, but one of the officers had ruined things at the last minute. They made plans to try again, but before they knew it he and the Schmuck were back home.

            “I just wanted to thank you for your service to our country and tell you how much I admire you for what you’re doing.” The lady in front had turned around to talk.

            “Thank you, ma’am. We’re just doing our duty.”

            “You’re making us proud. You wouldn’t mind letting me pay for your refreshments, would you?”

            “Oh, that’s not necessary at all.”

            “But, I insist. It’s the least I can do.”

            “Well, if you insist, that’s mighty kind of you, ma’am.”

            He ordered a coffee, making sure to include a sandwich and a slice of lemon pound cake. The lady paid the person at the register. Before leaving, she patted his arm. “God bless you and have a nice day.”

            “Why, thank you, ma’am. I certainly will.” He carried his food to a table and winked at the blonde woman in passing. She blushed. He returned to the counter for a napkin. On the way back he looked up and saw the Schmuck approaching.

            “Your turn,” he said.

David Dominé

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Yaron Kaver – The Troll

The Troll

He considered the phrase “last meal” and the men it brought to mind—death row inmates on the eve of their execution and Jews on the eve of their Yom Kippur fast. And Jesus, he supposed, who embodied both groups, by far the most famous Jew to eat a holiday dinner and then march to his death. Sliding a chicken into the oven, he toyed with the parallel. Enjoy your “last meal” you dirty fucking Jews, he would write in the comments sections on this Yom Kippur Eve. Hope every last one of you dies by sundown! 

His apartment filled with the scents of cooking. Following advice his mother had emailed him five years ago under the subject line “Tips for an Easy Fast”, he did not overeat. He avoided salt. He drank plenty of water and abstained from caffeine or alcohol. He focused on protein and complex carbohydrates. And, finally, he left some time to brush his teeth and rinse his mouth before the first stars appeared in the sky. The festivities behind him, he was now ready to fast. 

He sat down at the computer. A single new email glowed at the top of the screen, his father imploring him to find a way to attend the prayer services, even if this meant driving his car to and from synagogue on the Holy Day. Word for word, this was the exact same message his father had sent him the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that. Already his tongue felt swollen dry in his mouth. All the while, the rumble of passing cars rose and fell outside his window, and TV sets mumbled through the walls.

He passed the first hours of his fast composing individual emails to each and every one of his friends back home—those he had known since elementary school, those he had met in high school, those who had shared his misery in the Israeli army, and the roommates he had lived with when he first set out on his own in Tel Aviv. The bulk of the letter remained the same, copied and pasted from one to the next, describing his homesickness on this of all days, when the entire nation came to a stop, every store shuttered, every car parked. While stoplights clicked green to yellow to red, people waded in the puddles of light on the asphalt, the intersections repurposed for public congregation. Families marched down the lanes in their best attire. Children raced their bicycles down the busiest street in town. The ethereal effect of Yom Kippur, the collective effort to suspend the traffic of life, could not be transposed onto foreign soil or recreated in the privacy of one’s home. It was the one day of the year when you could have no doubt that you were living in a Jewish State. 

He erased the last few lines from his emails, knowing that his friends would have cringed at the romanticized notion of the holiday and the country. They did not live in an idea; they were born to a home on a street in a neighborhood. They spoke its language and shuffled their feet to its history, and left the marvel and blame to foreign eyes. Quickly changing the subject, he personalized each letter with questions about girlfriends and wives, babies and toddlers, hobbies and jobs. After proofreading every draft and double-checking names and occupations, he sent the emails off in swift succession. 

He knew not to wait for replies. Israel turned seven hours deeper into the night, and his friends and family were all in bed by now, nestled in the holiday stillness. It would be hours before they checked their inboxes, and even then, there was no telling what the words would yield. In the first months after he moved halfway across the world, his writing drew consistent replies. A year or two later, only a fraction of the cast of his former life remained active participants in the correspondence. Recently his letters shot into space and drifted endlessly in black. 

He felt hunger creaking through him from his throat to his belly button. He typed the word “Israel” into Google and clicked and dragged his way down to the links that would satiate him.

His favorite prefix was “death to”, his favorite suffix “has no right to exist”. YouTube links offered the most fertile ground, though he enjoyed the thoughtful sites as well, where hate masqueraded as altruism in proper grammar and punctuation, and the comments appeared as blocks of text, imparting history lessons grown in greenhouses of desperation. He created new accounts where necessary, choosing FreeThePalPeople1967 as his handle when he found that FreeThePalPeople1948 was already taken. 

He typed fast, enamored with his own occasional mistakes, the “your” for “you’re”, the “were” for “we’re”. This was about quantity, not quality. It was a numbers game. He played the classics, such as Die Zionist scumbag. Fuck you and fuck Israel. He added his new holiday favorites, including The jews can never atone for their sins. They are worse then the nazis. He struck the right tone for the more reputable news outlets with Even the briefest of history lessons should disabuse you of your illusions about the legitimacy of the Zionist apartheid state, or No amount of obfuscating can erase the moral repugnance of the racist Zionist enterprise.  

His seeds all planted, he headed out for a stroll. Restaurant row was over an hour away at a brisk pace, but he could not drive, not on Yom Kippur. This was not a matter of religion but of decency; he would not add his engine to the road on this silent night. No one in Israel, not even the most militant of atheists, would do so. The cars in this country, however, gave him no such respite, following each other like beads on a string. He wished he could walk on the road. The sidewalk was covered in fallen leaves, slippery with dew and somehow alive. 

He arrived a sweaty, grimacing mess. Groomed men and women shoved food into their mouths on both sides of the street. Others chattered over plates half full, their uneaten food soon to be thrown in the trash. Pink and yellow lights glittered on their skin and jewelry. Little speakers bound to awnings blasted pop music into the night. Sections of the sidewalk were roped off, and big wooden barrels from a simpler, harder time were used as decoration. Not a single restaurant or café or bar had closed for the occasion. There was no occasion to honor. 

He was tired. Absentminded, he sat down at a table at a sidewalk café. The sun would soon rise in Israel and shine on the nation’s reverent pause. A waitress set a glass of water down before him without saying a word. He looked up to glare at the girl, but she was already gone. The cruelty of it, teasing him with this forbidden water. When the waitress returned for his order—yet another insult—he would cower and slink away. 

His phone beeped with new messages, not from his family, not from his friends, not from his long lost love, but passionate postings nonetheless. He thumbed at the touchscreen. The counterattacks made his heart swell. He scanned the replies for the telltale signs of an Israeli, the let-me-explain-to-you tone, the squared-off grammar, the Hebraicized English. It was early—or, rather, late—for the appearance of Israeli commenters, but there was always the chance he had fished one out, an insomniac or an expat like himself. An honest Israeli response this soon into the holiday would flood his throat with tears of joy.  

Many of his messages fell flat, of course, deleted by moderators or swiftly denounced by other users as provocations and summarily ignored. During his first year abroad he had taken offense at being called a Troll, but now he took it as instant intimacy; it was as if a complete stranger had divined his name by the color of his pain. As for those who reinforced his belligerency, they were but an unfortunate side effect, and he did not engage with them. He stood alone in his fight. After all, his battle was not with the existence of Israel, but with the fact that he could never get his distance from it just right. 

He wrote back to each and every one of his new cherished enemies, spurring them on with the black and white clichés of the decades-old debate. Usually he waited for Yom Kippur Day to make the switch to all caps, to bolster their love of country, but this year he felt famished, invigorated and raw, and aroused by the wealth of attention. Looking around, he put faces to the militant monikers—a chubby man was JewsForTruthNow; a tall blond woman was Xx_YahwehDestroyer_xX; an awkward teenager was IDFwinwinwin.

He marched back to his apartment building, fed and alive. He fell into his cold bed, where he lay until it warmed to him. He set his phone on the pillow beside him, hoping it might wake him in the night. This tradition of his own making was all that he had, and he pulled it over his body like a blanket and breathed it in. He could stare at a patch of ceiling and pretend he was elsewhere, he could press his pillow up to his ears and listen to his childhood like the ocean in a shell, but the air would never smell like home. 

Yom Kippur morning offered no new emails from his family or friends. The comments sections, however, were brimming with Israelis; his brothers and sisters, awakening to hatred on a lazy holiday, were compelled to stand their ground. How he loved them for this. Still in bed, he scrolled through their missives—compassionate, violent, enlightened, pessimistic, condescending and pleading. His mouth tasted like dirt and his jaw ached. Invisible scaffolding attached to his head at the points where it hurt the most.

He slipped into a submissive stupor. Though he ceased all activity, his mind depleted and his body exhausted, his comments spawned defenders and detractors around the world, creating chains within chains, pockets within pockets. Reading between the lines, he followed the story of a roomful of lonely users, their day ruined, their hearts poisoned with hatred for his tiny homeland. As the fast entered its final hour, their arguments faded along with him. 

Like every year, it was hard to believe the fast was over. Satisfied that the sun had indeed set, he sipped a glass of water and chewed a piece of pound cake slowly, followed by some crackers with sliced tomato, red onion and pickled herring. He showered and dressed and sat down at his computer. He revisited each and every site he had defiled the night before, and wrote

I’m sorry, one by one, comments section after comments section. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Yaron Kaver

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Frankie Carter – Pushover


When Will’s mother died, it took them a month to find his father.

Ty Stewart was a tall, broad-shouldered fellow with the same riotous coffee-colored curls as Will; he was in the wine business, he said, Married, but his wife lived in France. He looked at his son a bit warily, but he tried. He took Will out to dinner at a diner his mother worked in, sixteen years ago; Ty ordered cheeseburgers, strawberry soda, and hot apple pie. He watched every bite that went into Will’s mouth, looked relieved when he finished.

“Tell me about her, please, Ty?”

Ty didn’t remember her, not really. Will could tell, by the way he skimmed over details and stuck to the basics. 

“She was beautiful,” he said. “Had a great laugh. Really smart. We had a good time together, Will.”

Theirs had been a causal relationship; in a sense Will appreciated him not making it sound like more. Ty was better when he moved on to other things, like enrolling Will in school, getting him a car.

“It’ll be all right here, Will.”

Will nodded, but a rush of loneliness stole the thank you from his lips. Continue Reading »


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