Tag: 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.

From Issue 22: Dusk

John Hicks
Nearly dark when I got home from work.  On the deck, a young raccoon was draining the hummingbird feeder, his hind paws on the rail, the long fingers tilting it so the sugar water ran down the side to his tongue.  Seeing me, he ran along the rail, front legs hurrying to stay ahead of hind ones.  Quick leap onto the tree, he scrambled head-first to the ground, black claws scratching his departure.  He disappeared downslope into the darkening trees of the watershed.  Further down, two Barred Owls called back and forth.  They always sound muffled–like a mystic figure invoking spirits through a cloak-draped forearm.  A hummingbird buzzed me as I lifted the feeder from its hook; impossible to see it against the shadows.  A doe watched from the wildflowers where they edge out from the trees.  I went to the kitchen for an apple, but when I returned, she was moving off, parting the fireflies in the undergrowth.  So, I ate it and watched the sun dip beyond the far ridge, backlighting the trees like teeth in a comb.  As it withdrew, the cicadas went silent.  Then the birds.  Even the breeze in the pines.  It was like the momentary space an audience gives when the curtain goes up.  
And I’m in a rowboat on San Diego Bay.  I’m sunburned and thirsty, have an oar in each blistered hand, and my butt’s sore from the board seat.  It’s late.  I’m sixteen, and don’t want to head in, to surrender this independence, oblivious to my family’s concern.  By myself for a day, I find rowing mindless enough that the day slips from my shoulders.  I’m enjoying not being responsible; no thought about where I’m going; safe within the bay.  The sun is setting over Point Loma, shadow pouring over the near shore.  I rest the oars, water from their tips drops into ripples that flatten as they slip away.  This is the first time I hear it:  No gulls shrieking, no bus engines or car horns.  Not even children playing on the sand.  For a short time, the world holds its breath.  I think no one has ever noticed this before.  I lean forward, waiting for something significant to happen.  But the city exhales: mothers call their children, buses pull away from curbs, a light changes and traffic starts.  Darkness moves across the Bay, across the city, and all I know is there are things invisible in my everyday.  
I left the apple core for the raccoon to find.  Went in.
 
John Hicks is a narrative poet whose work has been published or accepted for publication by:  Valparaiso Poetry Review, I-70 Review, Ekphrastic Review, Glint Literary Journal, Midnight Circus, Panorama, Mojave River Review, and others.  He writes among the wild horse bands of northern New Mexico.  

From Issue 22: At Breakfast

Joseph D. Milosch
After working six days a week for four months, Leo was half way through the highway project on the California and Nevada State line. It was 10 am when he arrived home. Turning off the ignition, he recalled that as a young man, he drove home nightly. Nearing retirement, he found that he could no longer stay awake on the daily drive home. Therefore, he alternated the days he stayed in a motel with the days he drove home.
He didn’t like staying in a motel for two or three nights during the week, nor did he like the effect that working far away had on his 30-year marriage. This was on his mind as he drove and fought sleep. When he had pulled over for a nap, his worries about his home-life prevented him from sleeping. 
He rubbed to eyes to remove the dryness caused by his fatigue before he lifted his night bag out of the rear bed of his sky-blue pickup. Walking towards his house, he heard a Mexican crooner singing Mi Prieta Linda and smiled because it was his wife’s cooking song. 
Pausing at the side door, he listened to his wife singing and smelled her cooking. Entering the house through the laundry room door, he set his bag on the washer and turned left to walk into the kitchen’s doorway. His wife, Alma, stood in front of the oven, grilling serrano chilies.
Besides the comal was a frying pan full of chorizo, papas, and cebolla. “Deme un besso,” he said, and she tilted her head and offered her cheek. Kissing her, he smelled her hair, which had cloaked itself in the odors of breakfast. He touched her long brown hair, which was so dark it looked black under the kitchen light.  
She had tied it back in a ponytail, and below the long silver feathers dangling from her ears, a few gray hairs curled on her neck. Her shoulders were exposed by the wide collar of her dress with its lime leaf pattern. 
Pouring coffee into his black cup with a chipped handle, he sat at the kitchen table.  Tacked on the wall, the church calendar marked the days he’d been gone. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” he said to his wife, who was loading their plates. Sitting down, Alma held his hand, and he said grace.
“Do you like seeing me only on Saturday?” she said.
“No,” Leo answered, shaking his head. He felt too tired to argue and hoped that his silence would disperse her anger.
“What am I to you?” Alma asked.
“Everything.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Coming home to you makes me the luckiest man I know.”
“Don’t lie to me!”
“Why don’t you believe me?”
“Because I know you.”
“I’m not lying,” he said.
“Do you think we’ll be together in the next life?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, trying to avoid the things he had said in previous arguments.
“Am I ugly?” she asked.
Wondering how she balanced her uncertainty about his love with the vastness of her love for him, he said, “You’re the prettiest woman west of the Mississippi.”
“Be serious. You spend so little time with me now. Do you think you’ll spend more time with me when I’m dead?”
Stirring the salsa into his chorizo con papas, he thought because she’s been fighting cancer for 15 years, she had the upper hand.
“All I’m asking is for you to be with me while I’m still alive. I want to spend time with you now.”
She wouldn’t let him take her hand and rub her knuckles. He stared at his food, ashamed to look her in the eyes because he knew in 30 hours he would leave for work and not see her for another week.
He would come home, of course, but she would be asleep when he arrived. When he left at dawn, she would be asleep. Then, there were the nights he slept in a motel.
“You don’t know me anymore,” she said, “Do you know my favorite color?”
That was her trick question. The answer had multiple choices. When they first married, her favorite color was yellow. The color of the morning flower on a cactus.
Her first cancer diagnosis changed her favorite color to the blue found on the Madonna’s cloak in their church. When her cancer reappeared, her favorite color became the shade of the tree leaves above her father’s grave.
Sipping his coffee, he looked at the calendar’s picture of a California Mission. Below the Spanish word for Sunday, Domingo, was written 1030 mass and Leo leaves at 530. She angered him when she insinuated that he wanted to work out of town.
That anger supplemented his anger with the California traffic that he fought to come home. Also, he was angry at always working far away. He was tired and angry and wanted to say, “Just let me eat in peace.” 
He considered saying that they both wished to be together; unfortunately, work kept getting in the way, but that was a dead-end comment. Placing his cup on the table, he looked at her and said. “You’re right. I don’t know your favorite color, but my favorite color is brown, the shade that matches your skin.”
Alma looked at him and drew the edge of her hand across her eyes as she quoted his Irish cousin, “You’ve got the blarney clear up to here.” They ate in silence for a while. Rolling her tortilla in the palm of her hand, she said, “Hurry up and eat so you can shower and sleep. When you get up you can buy some beer. I’m going to make tacos.”
“Okay,” he said and reached for her hand. When she allowed him to hold it and to kiss the back of it, he knew he wasn’t quite out of the cold, but the ice between them was beginning to melt.
 
Joe Milosch graduated from San Diego State University. His poetry has appeared in various magazines. He has multiple nominations for the Pushcart and received the Hackney Award for Literature. His books are The Lost Pilgrimage Poems and Landscape of a Hummingbird.

From Issue 22: She Came Over on the Mayflower

Jim Daniels
My grandmother moved in with us when I was seven. Broke, she’d come back to Detroit from Arizona on a train. A Mayflower moving truck arrived the next week with a yellow box twice my size that contained her life like one of the Reader’s Digest condensed books she read. She pulled out some clothes for her dresser in the room she’d share with my sister, then the box sat for years like an upright double-wide coffin in the corner of the basement. My father put it on bricks to save from the occasional flooding. We used to climb in the box that smelled old like my grandmother, to hide in or to dream of going somewhere far. We never went anywhere that was not in the palm of Michigan’s hand. All we knew of Arizona was the petrified wood she handed us in tiny beds of cotton as gifts when she arrived. We saw cactuses only in cartoons. She never talked about what happened out there housekeeping in a convent. My grandfather died before I was born. She’d gone out west with a lady friend, then came back alone and lived the rest of her life in my sister’s room in a space curtained off that was as big as that box laid flat. She died when I was twenty-one years old, and I got drunk in that basement at her wake. When my mother had had my dog put down one day while I was at school, I barely shrugged, then headed off to my job at the party store, then after work to dry-hump my girlfriend in a way that was remarkably similar to my dog humping my leg during his glory years. My sister cried as hard as she cried when Elvis died, which was remarkably hard. I wonder now about my grandmother’s friend Hilda and what broke down out in the desert. If grandma kept any pictures, they weren’t in that box. She collected rosaries and kept a heating pad on her back every night and sat on her bad watching a tiny portable TV with an ear jack so she could crank up the volume without disturbing my sister—the last of the five kids, the only girl. We called her Little Grandma as she got littler, her brittle bones hunching her into nothing. To have a long life reduced to one Mayflower Moving box. Whenever I see one of their trucks, I fold into myself in shame for leaving her in that lonely box all those years, making fun of her farts, just like the dog’s. Old, and I’m one of them now. Put down. Put to sleep. Take me home, she said, and we didn’t know where to take her. You know the rest. How one day the water rose too high and ruined everything.
 
Jim Daniels‘ recent books include Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His forthcoming books include his next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, and his coedited anthology, R E S P E C T: The Poetry of Detroit Music, both to be published in 2019 by Michigan State University Press.

From Issue 22: Wild Boar

Jim Daniels
Last night, I ate wild boar for the first time at the home of my friends Pierre and Christine. We sat on their terrace overlooking a hillside of vineyards lush green at the end of June. As the sun set, we had to put our sunglasses back on and hide behind a pillar. Five minutes, Pierre said, and the sun will disappear. No clouds willing to filter out the sun against all that blue surround. The colors here—the old painters loved them. It may have been five minutes in French time.
Pierre had showered and was ready to eat for a change. Usually, he shakes my thin hand with his thick one, or if he is too dirty, he offers his forearm for me to grab, then runs in for a shower. He works hard in the vines. He is a man of the earth who can tell where and when it’s going to rain, contradicting all available signs to us watching dark clouds hover, listening to the low thunder rumble. Knows where the wind is coming from and why and all things visibly invisible.
Where did you get the wild boar? I asked.
Christine said it’s a long story, then told us that story: a man in a nearby village has healing powers in his hands—particularly his thumbs. Nothing to do with Jesus. Once, he saw a cow moving awkwardly, favoring one shoulder. The man ran his thumbs down into the flesh of the cow until it moved normally again. The news spread through the village, and neighbors soon began dropping in, saying touch me the way you touched the cow. He did. He relieves pain, stiffness, pressure. People wait quietly on a bench outside his tiny house.
The man refuses payment. He has no training in chiropractory. The word spread to other villages. Since he refuses money, the lame and aching bring gifts. The countryside has been overrun with wild boar, and the farmers all hunt them. The man cannot refuse all the meat. He redistributes it to those who visit him. He gave a chunk to Christine. They were waiting for a special occasion. They are old friends of twenty years. For our visit, Pierre pulled the meat out of his giant freezer, where he keeps such things.
Restaurants can’t serve wild boar. The government inspectors won’t allow it. The idea of sharing the meat, a ritual here in these small villages. The howling of hunting dogs thickens the air in season after the grape harvest. The braying of hounds carries miles through this clear blue sky.
Roasted with gravy, accompanied by fresh vegetables. We sighed on the terrace as the sun dropped below the village on the hill. Juice of wild boar around our mouths, wiped with tissues Pierre handed around, in lieu of napkins. The soft waft as the tissues pulled out of the box after the cicadas kicked back for the night. I was skeptical at first, Christine said. Then she pointed to her back and lifted her thumbs to mime the man’s actions. She told us the name of the nearby village, but I’m not telling you. The man is 89 but the signs point to clear skies ahead, a steady tailwind.
When Pierre offers you his forearm, it’s a gift. He expects nothing in return. Happiness is the sun setting on a good meal and good story. The massive, shaggy beast reduced to stew, overshadowed by an old man with magic thumbs.
You might be skeptical, as I was. Christine was speaking French, of course, so I might have missed something in translation or time travel. But I don’t think so.
 
Jim Daniels‘ recent books include Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His forthcoming books include his next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, and his coedited anthology, R E S P E C T: The Poetry of Detroit Music, both to be published in 2019 by Michigan State University Press.

From Issue 18: Picking up the Pieces

Mary Ann Presman
Deep in a daydream, Janet almost launched into “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” instead of “Lamb of God” at Communion. That would have been embarrassing. As it was, she saw Father John glance up at her in the choir loft—he heard that first errant note before she recovered, remembered where she was.
Which was at the organ for eight o’clock Mass at St. Seraphina’s Catholic Church, just hours away from her shift as a Guest Services Ambassador at Wrigley Field. These two occupations were not to be confused, although both were performed in what Janet regarded as rarefied air.
Janet loved to bring the entire congregation to its feet with a hymn that resounded through this beautiful old church in Chicago’s K-Town. Dust mites mingled in the sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows; the smell of old wood and a trace of incense hung in the air. The ten o’clock Mass featured music provided by a trio of Spanish guitars, but this early Mass was traditional, old school—with the kind of music that had been played for decades in St. Seraphina’s. No choir now, granted. Just Janet, creating majestic music befitting the solemnity of Sunday Mass. 
As soon as Mass was over she would duck into the ladies’ room and change into her Cubs’ blue, tucking her fifteen extra pounds under the loose-fitting jersey and her still-auburn curls under her “C” cap.  She made a bee-line for the CTA stop at Pulaski and 21st and caught the Pink Line north. It took about an hour to get to Wrigley Field—transferring to the Red Line along the way—but she always arrived in plenty of time to check in and then begin greeting the enthusiastic fans arriving early for Cubs baseball. This was the best job ever. Sure, some people got a little testy when you had to make them move because they weren’t in the right seats—she could nominate many for Academy Awards the way they feigned surprise that their tickets weren’t for Section 131, but for Section 431. 
But how about being part of all the excitement at Wrigley? The Cubs were having the best year they’d had in a long time, certainly the best since she’d started ushering—‘scuse me, greeting patrons as a Guest Services Ambassador. And she worked the section above first base, where that cutie pie Anthony Rizzo performed his magic. She was right there to see him climb the rail and perch atop the rolled up canvas to catch that fly ball. And she got paid to be there! Well, granted, not that much—but she didn’t have to fork over the big bucks that people who bought tickets did. Her favorites were the Friday afternoon games—sunshine, green grass, the smell of those kosher dogs on the grill. So what if it had been over a hundred years since the Cubs had won the World Series?
Janet had not been working at Wrigley all that long. It was a much coveted job among seniors—and Janet was only sixty-one. But her regular job during the week was in the office of St. Seraphina’s School, so she had the summers off anyway and decided about ten years ago to look into the possibility of being a Wrigley Field usher.  The season started before school was out, of course, and then extended into September (and October if they were lucky!) after school started up again. But the heaviest attendance coincided with Janet’s summer off, and she had no trouble working the minimum number of games in order to guarantee being hired back the next year.
This year, there’d been no problem at all because there was no St. Seraphina’s School anymore. It was just one of the many schools the diocese had to close because there weren’t enough kids to fill the classrooms. So Janet joined the ranks of the retired, a few years earlier than she planned. 
Luckily, she didn’t have to pay rent or a mortgage payment. Her parents had bought this 2-flat before Janet was even born, living downstairs and renting out the upstairs apartment to help make the mortgage payment. It was a good deal then, and although the neighborhood had changed some since, it was certainly a good deal for Janet. She lived alone; her mom had died young—younger than Janet was now, come to think of it.  Then her dad died just about ten years ago, after more than a few years of Janet caring for him, taking him to doctors’ appointments, cooking their evening meal. After he passed is when she decided to become a Cubs usher, when she suddenly found herself with lots of free time in the summers.
“Now with the school closed, I have lots of free time in the winter,” Janet remarked to Frieda, one of the other ushers. “I can only stand to watch so much TV.”
“You need to get yourself a hobby,” Frieda said. “My sister and I took a knitting class together and now I’m knitting up a storm all winter long. It’s good therapy.”
“I don’t see myself as a knitter.”
Frieda shrugged and turned to the couple coming up the steps, “May I see your tickets, please?”
What Janet really wanted was to be the full-time organist at Wrigley Field. She knew she had every bit as much musical talent as Gary Pressy, sitting high up in his booth above home plate, playing “Good Vibrations” when Anthony Rizzo came up to bat, “Bailondo” when Miggy Montero approached the batter’s box. Wasn’t it time for someone new up there? Like Janet? She could dream.
When October came and the Cubs weren’t in the World Series again that year, Janet saw a flyer at the grocery store for classes at the art supply store near the Pink Line station. Maybe she’d just stop in and look around. 
That’s how she found herself gluing little pieces of ceramic tile to a plate in November. There were a half-dozen women in the mosaic tile class, some with plans to create Christmas gifts; others—like Janet—wanted to do something artistic without necessarily being able to draw or paint. With a great deal of help from their instructor, who was also the store owner, Janet created a plate with a deep green background and a pretty white dove. Christmas-y. And not bad for her first effort.
The store provided all the supplies for their first projects, but then Janet and her classmates were advised they might want to begin to acquire some of their own materials. Over the winter months Janet spent a lot of time browsing at flea markets and tag sales, rummaging through her own attic. She spread the word among her siblings—her two married sisters and her one sister-in-law—that she’d be happy to take off their hands any cast-offs: odd plates, saucers, leftover squares of ceramic tile from bathroom or kitchen remodeling jobs. Preferably solid-colored. Flat pieces were better than curved, but she could make some of the slightly rounded pieces from mugs or vases work.
Janet wasn’t quite sure what her next project would be, but she wanted to have raw product on hand for when the inspiration struck her.
In the meantime, she snuck into St. Seraphina’s on weekday afternoons when nobody was around to practice ballpark songs on the organ. She had “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Go Cubs Go” down pat, but wanted to work on the other songs that a savvy Wrigley Field musician might play to entertain the crowd on a sunny day in what Steve Goodman called “that ivy-covered burial ground.” You never know, Gary Pressy might have a heart attack and keel over. Somebody had to be ready to step in. Janet was determined to be that somebody.
“Hey, Janet, are the Cubs coming to Mass Sunday?”
Janet nearly jumped out of her skin. There was Father John, right behind her, grinning from ear to ear.
“Oh, sorry, Father.”
“Hope I didn’t scare you?”
“No, no. Well, maybe a little. I wasn’t aware anyone else was in the church.”
“I heard the music when I left the rectory next door and thought I’d better stop in to check it out,” the genial priest told her.
“Sorry, Father.”
“No need to apologize. It’s probably good for the organ to get used now and then between Sundays.”
“It probably is,” Janet was quick to agree. “I was going to start practicing some of the music for next Sunday’s mass next.”
“Right.” Father John looked at her a little quizzically. 
“It’s so cold out, I thought a little baseball park music might warm things up.” Janet was grasping for some sort of explanation.
“Aha! Next thing you know I’ll be hearing luau music,” he beamed at her. “Should I go get my ukulele?”
She laughed. “I didn’t know you were a musician, Father John.”
“I’d have to get myself to Confession if I said I was, Janet. I don’t really have a ukulele—I was just kidding. You’ll forgive me, won’t you?”
Janet could feel her face redden. She issued a strangled giggle.
“Not to worry,” Father John said. “There’s no sin in a feeble joke. I apologize for interrupting your practice session. I’ll be off.” The priest patted her on the shoulder and then was off down the steep steps from the choir loft, whistling “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as he descended.
She waited until she heard him go out the heavy front door, then opened the hymnal on the music stand and launched into “Soon and Very Soon,” one of her favorite recessional hymns.
Later, as she was in the kitchen warming up last night’s goulash, Janet wondered if she felt more guilty about getting caught playing baseball music on the church organ, or about her half-heartedly wishing some mishap might befall Gary Pressy. Maybe her wish was even more than half-hearted. She couldn’t recall ever wishing real harm to anyone before. 
Except maybe Bruce Osinski, that painter she had hired a half-dozen years ago to paint the entire upstairs apartment between renters. He had flirted shamelessly with Janet to the extent that she daydreamed about giving up her virginity—along with her spinsterhood, of course—until someone at school told her he had a wife and four little Osinskis at home. Janet considered two possibilities: murder Osinski by sticking his head in a paint bucket, or joining the convent. Within a week, the painting job was done, Bruce Osinski was gone, and she returned to the safety of life as usual.
Just thinking about that painter person sent Janet to the corner of the basement where she hammered plates to pieces. The long-neglected ping-pong table was her work space. She donned her safety glasses and chose a pretty turquoise dinner plate from the cardboard box on the floor. She set the plate face down on the old blanket she used to cushion the blows, picked up her hammer and BAM! smashed the plate right in the middle. That first blow was always the best. Janet wasn’t crazy about the grouting part, but she loved the smashing part. The blanket helped keep the pieces on the table, which she proceeded to hammer into smaller and smaller pieces until she had chips suitably sized for ceramic tile work. 
Only one plate tonight. This was exhausting work, and although Janet was in good shape, the Cardinals were coming to town tomorrow and there’d be a big crowd at the ballpark.
Friday afternoon at Wrigley, the wind blowing out. “There must be forty-thousand here today, don’t you think?” Frieda speculated.
“It’s always this way with the Cardinals,” Janet agreed. It was the top of the seventh and the Cardinals were up 4-3. Many of the Guest Services Ambassadors found themselves with little to do.  Janet made her way up toward the organist’s perch—she wanted to see Gary Pressy accompany the guest conductor—some hockey player she’d never heard of—in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh inning stretch.
Pressy looked disgustingly healthy. If she was going to wait for him to drop over from a heart attack, she’d have a very long wait. Janet knew he took good care of himself, worked out daily, even took the stairs all the way up to his organist’s booth instead of the elevator. She had to admire the way he led the hockey player–who had no voice at all, by the way—and the crowd, with the right pace so everybody could keep up. It was a highlight of every game; they really didn’t need some no-name celebrity to “lead” the crowd.
When the song ended, Pressy got up and looked as if he was going to leave his perch—something he rarely did during a game. Maybe he needed a bathroom break. Janet was close enough to the door to the booth; she could reach out and touch him if she wanted. Or she could stick her foot out and see what happened. Maybe Pressy would fall to the cement steps and get one of those concussions everybody is suddenly talking about. Wouldn’t that be a shame? After the medics hauled him away, she’d be right there. Nobody would suspect her, and she could just slide in there on the organist’s bench and finish playing for the rest of the game.
The next day they’d come to her and ask her to finish out the season.
Janet glanced down at the grassy green field which would become her domain. She saw Anthony Rizzo taking practice swings in the on-deck circle and realized he was up next. He could hit a homer and tie up the game. 
But he probably wouldn’t if she tripped Pressy and created a scene. A distraction. A jinx. A new Chicago Cubs Curse.
Janet turned and descended to her place in the right-field stands. She didn’t know if Pressy even ever left the booth, maybe he was just stretching.
That night she found a small vase in her basement stash that was just the right shade of blue and brought the hammer down with a shattering blow. There were enough red chips left from a previous project; she could make a tile with the Cubs logo to set on the windowsill over her kitchen sink. This could be the year.
Mary Ann Presman is a retired advertising copywriter and a Chicago Cubs fan. “Picking Up the Pieces” is part of a collection of short stories entitled “The Good Dishes.”