Category: Fiction

From Issue 23: The Light, Fantastic

Kevin Hinman
one:
“Each dance, Elmore, has a specific narrative.  Take the waltz, from the German wälzen, or to turn.  It’s a dance of conquest, in which the lead, usually, but not always male, allows the partner, usually, but not always female, to conquer him.  The lead begins by pursuing the partner, but becomes, on the third beat, the pursued.  This is the turn.”
“It’s very sensual.”
“It’s not sensual,” Suzie said.  “It’s militant.  The dance is about the Thirty Years’ War, and the brutal interrogation of Viennese prisoners by their Protestant oppressors.  The mind games they played were paramount to torture.  I’ve also heard the dance referred to as ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop.’”
“Where have you heard that?”
“In various circles.  Dance circles.”
Elmore stood up, and dusted the pie crumbs from the front of his trousers before switching the record.
“So, dancing, Elmore, is just like acting.”
“How long is side B?”
She didn’t know why he was there, in her apartment, how he had gotten there, how she had descended from 12G to the Lafayette Street exit, her legs suffocating under her stockings in the humid swamp of mid-August, how she had ended up in a country bar, a tourist bar, looking for tourists, and finding Elmore, an old acquaintance, half-forgotten.
“You put yourself in the role of a Viennese prisoner, and voilà, you’re waltzing with the best of them.  Sometimes, it’s very difficult to deconstruct the narrative of a dance, and this can be problematic.   I’ll see a couple, or an individual, dancing, and it will take days before it clicks – He’s pointing out a flock of birds in the sky to his newborn daughter, or the heat is off in their apartment building and they’re shaking from hypothermia.  Now, the running man is an existential dance.  The where is not important, but you need to understand why you’re running, on a philosophical level.  If you don’t know the narrative, how can you expect to experience any sort of catharsis, or stay on beat, for that matter?”
She dimmed the lights.
“The line dance?”
“A line of defense.  You’re part of a small principality forming a barricade against an invading fascist régime.  I find it best to imagine tanks are involved.   Most dance is combative in nature, your partner being the enemy.”
Then her hand was on his chest and she was kissing his rough cheeks, his closed eyes, the way she’d seen done hundreds of times on TV, when the moment was so passionate, mouth kissing simply would not do.
“Twenty, or twenty-five minutes.”
“What?”  He was surprised to find himself unbuttoning her skirt, removing his shirt.
“Side B.  Twenty, or so minutes.  It’s got “Won’t Get Fooled Again” on it, which is pretty long.  Ten minutes almost.  Do you have protection?”
He nodded, and she led him to her lips.
Sometimes when she is alone, Suzie pretends she is the organizer of a large factory union in the thirties.  She and her fellow workers demand an increase in salary and when it is refused, they strike.  They are replaced by scabs.  They are beaten by men with crowbars and bats.  They go hungry.  In the end, they always go back to work, without the raise.   This fantasy resides in a certain masochistic corner of Suzie’s brain that she doesn’t understand, and she doesn’t question.  She has never told anyone.
“The tango is one of my personal favorites and involves a woman who is too drunk to walk home.  A stranger, who is not her husband, is there to keep her from careening to the sidewalk, which she barely knows is there, since she’s so schnockered.  The man, though he is pressed for time, having a wife and kids of his own to meet, must stay with her until she has sobered up enough to walk unaccompanied, which is often late into the night, or even early the next morning.  It’s a dance of obligation, and of regret – one of the hardest you can perform and even harder to teach.”
“Have you ever done it?”
“Once, when my family was vacationing in Miami.  A man of thirty, or forty, I don’t know, approached me at the mall, invited me to his dance studio and plied me with liquors, silver tequila mostly, cold shots.  I was an unsupervised child.  Not bad, per se, just, in need of surveillance.  A fourteen-year-old-girl needs some kind of surveillance, or she’s liable to crack up.”
The speakers hissed with the slow groove of a guitar solo, one of Clapton’s finest, and Suzie’s hips responded accordingly, fluttering to the soft, starved pains of e minor.  She arched her back and moved her fingers down her sides, kneading the blended fabric of her t-shirt, hooking her belt loop in her crooked thumbs.  The drums came up, and she pounded out the two and four, flats against the floor,
the sound
echoing off the walls of the lightly furnished studio apartment.  There was the couch, its solo assembly a three hour, two bottle, ordeal, that ended with an episode of incoherent, tearful sputters, and handfuls of tan, plastic screws that went nowhere at all.  The bed was twin, the hardness of which was allayed with half a dozen throw pillows of various sizes, textures, smells.  One pillow, in particular, smelled like home, the beach, maybe almonds, her mother’s perfume, White Diamonds.  It had come from a garage sale in Susquehanna and had never been within a hundred miles of her childhood house, or the beach, or her mother, who had been dead some time before the pillow was acquired, though Suzie ignored these facts.  The kitchen was unmemorable, unremarkable, unkempt.  Suzie piled dishes in the sink, and left sticky, batter-smeared egg beaters on the top of the range, for weeks sometimes.
“Elmore,” she said.  “Come dance.”
She pulled him across the room, pulsating in the spotlight of two faux marble table lamps, her shadow winding in the carpet under their bare feet.  She stepped forward, to the left, and he followed.
“Don’t touch me,” she said, and how could he?  The air around her neck, her shoulders, her arms, was thick with an invisible force, a glow of energy, of sound and movement.
“What does this dance mean?” he asked.
“It means, Elmore, you’re falling in love with me.”
She woke up irritated, angry, finding even the simplest morning task, turning the shower head, or unfastening the toothpaste cap, a struggle.  A string of multi-syllable curses issued low and endless from her cracked lips.  There was not enough space in her bathroom, Suzie thought.  A woman couldn’t move.  She flipped both of the switches next to the sink and a flood of harsh, white light washed over her.  Her nightshirt, she discovered, under illuminance, was the same color as her skin, and turning toward the mirror, she met a stranger, her shaggy nudity puncturing the scene.  Suzie extended her left leg into a simple tendu, trying to recall the name of her junior ballet teacher, a lithe woman with a perpetually stretched face.  At the time, the woman had seemed ancient, but she couldn’t have been more than thirty-five.  Suzie bought her legs back to first-position, and rose up on the balls of her feet, the inches between her heels and the cold, vinyl tile a distance she could not begin to comprehend.
“I can’t believe I forgot about the Charleston!”
Her father’s house was a mess, not like she remembered it at all, though this was a subject she found difficult to broach at the dinner table, with her father and stepmother staring at her like a piece of meat, like some goddamn cut of chicken, raw and bloodless and infected.  It was Thanksgiving and she had driven out to Oyster Bay, but she had not left early enough to figure in the staggering crush of holiday traffic and it was already after dark.   “The Charleston, as you may have read, is the dance of the twenties.  It’s Gatsby’s dance.   However, the real art of the Charleston lies in its politics.”
“Yes, Sue,” her father said.  “It’s a satirical dance, to mock teetotalers.”
“Let her finish,” Deborah said.  She was not Suzie’s mother, though she stank of White Diamonds, of the beach, of almonds.
“You’re wrong, Papa,” she said, topping off her burgundy.  “You’ve never been more wrong.”
“Well, then tell me what’s right, Sue.”  He sat back in his chair, a wall of suspicion, of irritation and depression, of grief for her mother.  This, Suzie understood, was paternal love in all its ugly incandescence. Love beamed here, shining at the dinner table.   Love filled the room with its bewildering voice, singing, these are the days that you’ve lost and will continue to lose.  Outside, love crashed against the beach in horrible, cacophonous waves.
On her way home, pulled over on the shoulder of the road, she talked her way out of a DUI.  The officer’s name was Mitchel.  He was born in Hicksville, and had never pulled his gun on duty, of which, he said, he was very proud.
and two:
– There was a time when I thought Suzie was, hands down, the smartest girl I’d ever met.  Which is – What?  Oh, you want another, Elmore?  Yeah, two more on my tab, under Daniel Patterson.  It’s, like, a bright red card.  You can’t miss it.  Not as much ice in mine.  No, I got a cavity.  It’s the worst.  Now, what was I saying about Suzie?
– It sounded more like a warning, really.
– Well, I don’t know about all that.  I mean, listen, El, I knew you were sleeping together, but not, like, you were in love with her.
– How could I not be?
– And she can’t dance.
– No, she can dance, Danny.  She was classically trained. It’s just everything that comes out of her mouth that’s bullshit. She tried to tell me the waltz was about the Thirty Years War. Now, I just keep Wikipedia open on my phone.  I check it when she’s in the bathroom.  ‘The Thirty Years War?’  Who even thinks of that?
-Anyway, she’s got this thing.  It’s very alluring, the way she just comes after you.
– One hundred percent.  A, uh, femme fatale is what they call it.
– That’s it.  That’s what she is.  I mean, when I first started seeing her a few years ago, she was, like, this force in my life.  Nothing else mattered.  John would call, you would call, my mom would call, and I wouldn’t even look at the phone.
– Danny the Ghost.
– Completely, but that’s because, oh, thank you.  No, I think we’re good for now.  Ah.  Oh, thank you.  That’s so much better.  My tooth thanks you.  That’s because she –
– I have perfect teeth.
– Enough.  I know.  You have a good job, that’s why.  Hey! Watch it, pal!  Jesus, this holiday crowd is the worst.
– I hate this song.
– Why do we come here, Elmore?
– Good ambience?
– …So, you gonna call her tonight?
– Why?  If I don’t, you will?
– …
– …
and three:
It’s New Year’s Eve and for some awful reason she’s in Time Square and there are cops everywhere and it’s gigantic speakers and it’s pop acts and EDM and the mayor has made a speech and the news anchors are huddled around a case of sparkling wine, blowing on their scarlet fingertips like some Tompkins Park vagrants, and keeping the cameramen at bay.  Elmore is somewhere in the crowd and he’s calling Suzie’s cell, which is on silent, and she’s staring up at the clock, 11:45, and at the ball, which is twice as gaudy as the year before, but so what, everything is.
She hasn’t seen him in a week, not since he showed up Christmas night banging on her apartment door, cradling a bag of gifts, his lips pulled back in a widescreen grin.  She told him she would be spending the weekend with her family in Long Island, but she was lying and he knew it, though at the time she thought maybe she would really try and get out there.
“Go home,” she said, unfastening the deadbolt anyway.   Then they were in bed, and Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald were seeping out of the speakers, and she breathed the sweet trombones and trumpets, and her body hummed to Louis’ low growl, and her sweat stuck to Elmore’s dress shirt, which he left on, which had become his habit.
“A lot of jazz dances don’t exist anymore.  The revolutionary European dances of the twenties and thirties have simply vanished.”
“Because of the war?” he asked.  His pants were draped over a chair by the bed, and he fished in the pockets as he spoke, finally extracting a crumpled pack of Camels.  When did he start smoking, she wondered.  Did he always?  Was it getting trapped in her comforter, the stink of nicotine, in her hair and on her breasts and in her blood?
“Yes,” she said.  “Because of the war.  Many of those dances were never even named, but they were wild, transgressive.”  He offered the cigarette and she shook her head, her eyes on the ember.
“One dance,” she said, “one dance was said to be so intense, the dancers could actually leap out of their bodies, and look back at themselves.”  Would it never leave?  Was it sticking, like leeches, to her clothing? Her furniture?  Was it on the throw pillows?  Where could all this smoke go?
“I can’t imagine,” he said, smirking.
He stubbed the ash out in a nearby wine glass, and she
screamed
a deep throaty growl that would have made Armstrong proud.
Now, in Time Square, Suzie checks her phone, and his thirty-four texts, his sloppy apologies, locational inquiries and amorous proposals are all underscored with the naïve notion that this night, any night, can still be saved, that in fifteen minutes he’ll find her in the throng of drunks and she’ll rush into his arms, and the ball will descend while they push forward into the future.
This is a mistake, she says out loud, but the sound gets lost in the onslaught of air horns and screaming teenagers.  What she wants is to be on the subway, not tonight, the packed cars a crude simulacrum of so many SoHo clubs, girls with glittered faces, men with gin soaked lapels and sunken eyes, but on the subway on a Monday, unimportant, slumped against the sliding doors with vocational commuters, headphones in their ears, riding out of the city, toward the obscurity of a cheap studio in Harlem, a two bedroom in Corona, the dead winter beach of Coney Island.  A couple are having a conversation too close to her ear, and instead of leaving, Suzie cuts further into the bedlam, toward the barricade.
All eyes on the LED screen now, and its minutes and seconds and milliseconds.  Here, they worshipped time, like some old god, if only for an hour, as nines became eights and eights sevens and sevens sixes, every metamorphosis a triumph of modern living.
“Miss.”  A man’s voice cuts sharp through the dissonance.  “Miss, arms behind the barricade, please.  You’re too close.”
She apologizes, but doesn’t step back. The crowd does it for her, bodies pressed against hers, shoulders shifting, a unity of heads and arms and feet, all shifting, eyes glued, primed to take in the first moments of the new year, with its new media, and its new politics, and its new dances.  Suzie feels her body pivot to a pocket of space.
“I’m not going to tell you again, miss, ‘behind the line,” the voice says.  The future is palpable in his hot breath.
And she knows there will be a moment soon when it will all escape her, a moment when she will be unable to decipher the undulations of young bodies, throbbing to sub notes, electric and cunning.  And Elmore, she supposes, will dance whatever dances they offer up.  Of course he will.  Elmore, who found paradise in simple two-steps and jerky pelvic thrusts and uninspired head nods, would buy into it all, never understanding he was betraying his own narrative, while she strived for something more.
“Miss!”
There is more space now.  The breath is getting closer, the voice louder, violent.  It wants to hold her.  It sounds so much like Elmore telling her he needs her.  And she drowns out all of it, because she’s moving.
And she’s dancing.  She is jitterbugging, she is lindy hopping, she is swinging.  The numbers on the screens are a blur, but she knows that they are close, because the crowd is counting down, and she keeps such perfect time.  A hand grabs her arm, and she shrugs it off, like she shrugged him off, like so many dresses, and she twists away from the cutting voice, evading pursuit.
And all around her, the crowd is forming a body, but it is not her body, her body that can Mambo, and Samba, and ballet, and disco, her body that can boogie-woogie, and Calypso, and tap dance, and belly dance, and line dance, and square dance, her body that knows even those forgotten dances, secret and forbidden, and because they are so close, she dances them now, transforming, brilliant and wild, breaking out of her skin.  Here, there is no one to hold her.  Here, she is a pioneer.  Here, she is a scientist.  Here, she is shouting and kissing and aching.  Here, she is living.
And the crowd roars, “Happy New Year!”
And here she is.
 
Kevin Hinman is a Southern California writer and rapper who has been slamming words together with a mad man’s abandon for nearly three decades. His fiction has appeared in Temenos Journal, blink-ink, Newtown Literary, and Mojo. His new album ‘Beat Therapy’ is available on all streaming platforms and at www.speshtodeath.com.

Issue 9: Transients

Lawrence F. Farrar
It was Jackie. I knew her right away. Should I speak to her or not?  I couldn’t decide. Maybe she wouldn’t recognize me. I’d taken a seat at the end of the counter, and so far she hadn’t looked my way. She was busy waiting on a couple who’d just come in on a bus from Bakersfield and couldn’t make up their minds on whether it would be the meat loaf or the ham steak.
How many years had it been?  Maybe twenty. She’d dropped out of school at fifteen or sixteen. That would make her about thirty-five. Pale, thin, and hollow-cheeked, she looked older than that–or maybe just more tired. Plain as the faded apron she had on, she hadn’t exactly been a beauty queen to begin with, and time hadn’t done anything for her. Twenty years.
—–
Jackie Pittman swore more than any girl I ever knew. She did it matter of factly, like it was a natural way of talking. Everybody agreed she carried a chip on her shoulder, and the swearing escalated whenever she got ticked off. Her sandpapery voice added an extra layer of coarseness. When she swore, the guys would laugh, the girls would giggle, and the teachers would turn red with anger or embarrassment.
People said it was because she came from such a trashy family. They declared she got her swearing from her old man. Charley Pittman, a mean-spirited roughneck to begin with, drank Old Crow whiskey like it was going out of style. His drinking made him even nastier. He drove a garbage truck, and people along his route would hear him banging the empty cans and yelling and cursing when he made his pickups. Anybody having anything to do with him came away convinced he couldn’t string ten words together without half of them being cuss words.
Still, to look at her, you wouldn’t have thought Jackie would talk that way. Undersized and underfed, she was just a slip of a thing, with frizzy, dishwater blonde hair that rarely had a comb run through it. Her face didn’t usually reveal much in the way of expression, especially her brown eyes. You could look into them as deeply as you wanted. But, there didn’t seem to be anything going on there. So it was hard to figure out what she was thinking.
Jackie suppressed her inner feelings, I suppose; but I’m sure she had them. She tried to avoid people as much as they tried to avoid her, and she’d retreat into corners and out-of-the-way places. But, when people provoked her, the anger flashed up. She’d come out fast and hard-charging, like a bantamweight on the attack. Pow!  The swearing would just spew out.
Jackie’s father and his hard faced wife had a pack of children, spilling out of a ramshackle house down by Al Bruckner’s gravel pit. It seemed like the sheriff made runs over to their place all the time. Whenever Charley Pittman didn’t like something one of the kids did, he’d take a strap to him–or her. When the yelling and screaming got to be too much, the neighbors would call the sheriff.
As best I can remember, Jackie didn’t have any friends at school. I think in those days, the girls all wore skirts and short sleeve sweaters and tied scarves around their necks. And they’d put on a lot of lipstick. Jackie never used makeup, and she showed up at school–on the days she came–in faded print dresses, like ones your old maid aunt would wear.
She used up a lot of time staring out the window. You couldn’t tell if she was watching something or just filling her mind up with dreams. Maybe she wasn’t thinking about anything. Who knows?
Nobody felt sorry for her. Nobody showed an iota of concern about the red welts on her arms, or the blue-green crescents under her eyes. Nobody wanted anything to do with her.
The teachers didn’t like her because she didn’t pay attention to what they said, and, when they called her on it, she sassed them. They put her down as much as the kids. She couldn’t read very well, and it seemed like they made her read out loud just to humiliate her. It never varied–whether it was Ivanhoe, Kidnapped, or Silas Marner. She’d struggle, they’d coach her, then she’d struggle some more. Mrs. Brett, the English teacher, would peer over her glasses and ask mocking questions. Cat got your tongue, Jackie?  Are you with us today, Jackie?  So Jackie would blow up and start swearing at them. Then they’d drag her to the principal’s office. The principal agreed with them that she was sullen and foul-mouthed, a real troublemaker.
I guess besides Miss Courtney, our civics teacher, and me, nobody showed her any consideration at all. Miss Courtney told me once that Jackie might act tough but it was just an act. Actually, she said, Jackie was a vulnerable and troubled girl, and people ought to take that into account. Miss Courtney was the only one I ever heard say anything like that.
Jackie and I had gone to the same grade school. So I’d say hello to her in the hall (she usually didn’t answer), and sometimes I talked to her in the lunch room. I’d see her sitting there, not looking at anybody and waiting for the bell to ring.
The only thing I remember her saying was, “When I get out of this goddamn school, I wish I could be a secretary–or maybe a veterinarian’s assistant. But, I guess I’m not smart enough.”
“You’re plenty smart enough,” I said. “Like Miss Courtney says, you can be anything you want.”  But, I didn’t believe it–at least not about Jackie.
I took a lot of razzing from my buddies. They claimed I was “a pal of Jackie Foul Mouth.”  They said they couldn’t understand why, but they had their suspicions. A real hilarious bunch. So I started avoiding her myself.
Not long after that, halfway through eleventh grade, Jackie bagged it. We heard she lifted some money from her old man’s wallet and just took off. Good riddance—that’s what everybody said. Nobody wondered what had become of her. And, I have to admit, that included me.
—–
It was Jackie for sure—right there in the Los Angeles bus terminal. Trying not to let her spot me looking her way, I studied the plastic covered menu. Something goopy—who knows what—stuck to my fingers. It felt like jam—or maybe syrup. I did the best I could to clean my hands with a napkin, but shreds of paper clung to my fingers.
“What’ll it be?”  The thickset cook loomed over the counter waiting for my reply. He looked as grease-spattered as the stove behind him. Dagwood’s comic strip nemesis had come to life.
“Just coffee. No, I’ll have a piece of that apple pie, too.”  At least the two flies were capering on the outside of the plastic cover.
The cook grunted and went off to draw a mug of coffee.
Jackie was taking an order from a man wearing a cheap blue suit and sporting a tie featuring a hula girl. I surveilled them like I was a spy. Because the customer sat at a table near the counter, I could hear him.
“You serving breakfast?”  He fixed his best hotshot leer on her.
“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” she said.
“I think I’ll have the shepherd’s special. You know. A piece of ewe.”
Jackie’s eyes burned holes right through him. “You want to order or not?”
Meantime, the cook pushed the pie across the counter and delivered my coffee.
“You been staring at my waitress?”
“No. No. For a minute I thought she reminded me of somebody. That’s all.”
“Can’t imagine she’d remind you of anybody you’d know.”  He glanced in Jackie’s direction. “She’s nobody.”
He wandered off to tend some sizzling sausages that had started to burn. For a while, all you could smell was oily, sausage flavored smoke, leavened with whiffs of French toast.
Was I that obvious?  Would she know me after all these years?  Not likely.
I sat there considering what to do. I really had nothing to say to her. After all, we’d barely known each other. We had little in common then, probably even less now. The cook had it right. She wasn’t anybody who mattered.
“More coffee?”  The cook put both hands on the counter. “You want more coffee?”
“Why not?  My bus doesn’t leave for another fifteen minutes.”
Like an involuntary juggler, Jackie struggled under the weight of a tray of dishes she’d just cleared. I wondered if she would make it across the room. The dishes clattered as she half-dropped the tray on the counter. The commotion pulled heads around and earned her a dirty look from the cook.
What could I say to her?  How you been?  What kind of life do you have?
She moved around a table just vacated by a woman I’d watched snub out a cigarette in her hash browns. Jackie scooped up the coins the woman left and slipped them into her apron pocket. From where I sat, it looked like twenty or thirty cents—no more.
She’d probably just be embarrassed if I spoke to her. We might be survivors from the same shipwreck, but we’d obviously washed up on different shores.
“Where you headed?”  The young guy on the stool next to me waited for an answer.
“What?  Oh. San Francisco.”
“Man, you looked like you were into some heavy thought just now.”
“Sorry.”  I ignored him. The next time I looked up he’d gone, replaced by a shabby old fellow I suspected didn’t have the fare to pay for the pie he had his eyes on. I slid a dollar over to him. He palmed it without looking at me.
“Thanks, mister.”
I tried to be less conspicuous in my surveillance. A soldier pushed back his chair, hoisted his duffle bag, and headed for the cashier. Jackie searched around for a tip as she collected his dishes. She came up empty-handed.
I polished off my pie and perched there at the counter sipping the too-hot coffee. Jackie had seated herself in a corner booth. Another waitress scurried around covering her tables. Jackie must have been taking her break. She took small sips of water from a glass and stared out the window. God. She was bone thin. Everything about her looked dilapidated–rundown.
I paid up. My bus would leave in a few minutes. Our lives had barely touched in the first place. It would be easier and less complicated to just to get on the bus and go.
Then I realized she was looking directly at me. She hesitated, clawed back her tangled hair with both hands, and slid out of the booth. She marched straight over to where I stood at the counter.
“I’m Jackie. Jackie Pittman. Remember?”  It seemed more a plea for confirmation than a question. “I saw you looking at me when you came in.”
“Yes, but . . .”
“You were the boy with that old Chevrolet. Peter Hamilton.”  I heard the same scratchy voice.
“That’s right. I wasn’t sure that it was . . .”
What did she think of me—an overweight, balding guy in a discount sport coat?
“I always hoped you’d ask me to go for a ride. Like you did with those other girls. But you never did.”
“I wasn’t sure it was you, or I’d have spoken sooner.”
“It’s okay. You were one of the nice ones. You never put on airs.”
“Oh, I’m not sure . . .”
“I don’t have too many good memories. So it’s kind of special, seeing you here.”  She delivered a little smile; it seemed wistful. I guess when you’re not doing well any drink of water tastes good.
“It’s been a lot of years. I haven’t been back home myself for a long time,” I said.
“What are you?  I mean what do you do?”  She seemed at once eager and hesitant.
“Insurance. Got my own agency.”
“I bet you’re married.”
“Yep. Wife and two teen-age girls.”
“That’s real good. Looks like things turned out okay for you.”
“Yes.” I could think of nothing to say. I had no stack of recollections to work through, no nostalgic reminiscences to share.
For a moment a thick silence came between us.
Then I said, “You’re looking just like you did in school.”  I expect it came across as the unfelt compliment it was.
But, for a moment, just for a moment, a sweet look of happiness hovered over her face, and then vanished. “Don’t I wish,” she said. “But, I’m getting by okay.”  She lowered her eyes and twisted her apron in front of her with both hands.
“Married?”
“Was. Not now. He ran off on me.”
“I thought you might be a secretary.”
“I tried it once. I guess I’m better at waitressing.”  Along with a little shake of the head, she gave me another smile, a smile that said that’s the way it goes.
Another silence fell between us.
“Well, I’d better get going. Don’t want to miss my bus.”
She looked as if she wanted to speak. But, she simply nodded.
“Small world, I guess,” I said.
“Yeah. Well, have a good trip.”
“Thanks. Maybe we’ll run into each other again some time.”
“Maybe.”
In a few minutes I’d be gone and forgotten, like last week’s blue plate special. I turned toward the door that led out to where the buses loaded and unloaded, came and went. When I did, she suddenly seized my hand in her own two hands and held on with a kind of desperate intensity, like she didn’t want me to leave. “If you ever see any of the people I knew, tell them . . . tell them . . .”
No longer impassive, her eyes implored me—but to say what?  To do what?
“You were one of the nice ones. . . I’m glad we knew each other.”  She gripped my hand a little longer, then wheeled and walked back to the corner booth.
The sunlight glittered off the smeared window of the cafe, and I had to squint. But, as the bus rolled out of the terminal, I could just make her out, hands cupped around her eyes and pressed to the glass looking in my direction. I doubt if she could see me. She waved anyway.
I suppose I should have waved back.
 
Minnesota resident Lawrence F. Farrar is a former Foreign Service officer with postings in Japan (multiple tours), Germany, Norway, and Washington, DC. Short term assignments took him to more than 30 countries. He also lived in Japan as a graduate student and as a naval officer. His stories have appeared in nearly 50 lit magazines.

Issue 9: It's Saturday, I'm Eleven

Dave Martin
I’m headed into the woods at the end of my street. I live alone in the woods. It’s Saturday, or summer, and I’m walking over the field at the back of the school at the end of my street. I’m eleven and can, at a distance, identify older kids who might beat me up.
There are three ways, from this side, to take into the woods. Two only we know about. In the backpack my father bought me at a yard sale, I carry a folding shovel, a short saw, a hammer and nails, one Phillips and one flathead screw driver, a Swiss Army knife, kite string and part of a clothesline, a Penthouse (my birth month and year, stolen from my uncle’s collection), eight Oreos, a half-bag of Fritos, a Milky Way bar, and two bottles of strawberry Crush.
I’m headed into the woods at the end of my street. My red All Stars soaked with cold dew from the grass. It’s early, and the tree leaves are bright with sunlight. The sun is up, shining, but the grass is still wet, and I’m crossing the field at the back of the school. I’m scanning the edge of the woods for white high tops. White high tops or cigarette smoke.
There are two secret ways to take into the woods. I go for the path in the middle. The middle path leads to the neighborhood junk pile. My camp is close to the side with the red, rusted Volkswagen bug. We smashed all the windows a long time ago. Smashed them out with my hammer, except for the windshield. For the windshield, we stood on the roof, dropped a cinder block through, and dented the hood jumping down as the shattered glass sparkled on the black vinyl seats. Even now the glass sparkles on the black vinyl seats. We love breaking glass. All the windows are smashed, but we still shatter bottles on the cinder block, or over the hood of the car.
I take the middle path into the woods. The woods knows me.
In the future, I’m not eleven. We are both in the kitchen, and the sudden smell of rain in the garden makes me horny. I step out in the weird stormy-yellow daylight and am instantly soaked through my t-shirt and jeans. Raindrops are bouncing off a Budweiser can on its side in the mud. I’m sure there’s a frog or a snail somewhere, too.
In the future, I look out over the neighborhood from our fortress on the hill: everywhere kitchen and dining room lights, or blue TV flashing on living room walls. I wonder how many kids have already locked themselves up in their rooms for the night. I feel like I have a heart, but it’s summer—Saturday night—and there’s nowhere to go, anymore, to break glass.
In the future, I wish we lived by a lake, and we opened the windows. If we lived by a lake, we could look out over the water somewhere.
 
Dave Martin is currently an MFA in Poetry candidate at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he works as assistant director at the Writing Center, assistant poetry editor for Third Coast, and as an editorial assistant for Comparative Drama. He lives with his son and two cats.