Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

Grimm Reminder

Bring me her heart

It doesn’t matter
which

ending you believe—

a graffiti splatter
against the trees

or the cruel mercy
of brief escape

she was always
abandoned

deep in the woods

* * *

Red

not her cloak
wrapped tight
around her face and body

nothing could hide her

from words
soft as fur
the cunning voice
beguiling eyes
that belied
his mouth   his teeth

little lamb

nothing
could save her
from the beast
and what he spilled


Gail Braune Comorat, a founding member of Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild, has been published in Delmarva Review, The Broadkill Review, damselfly press, Delaware Beach Life, Gargoyle, and Apple Valley Review. She received a 2011 fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts as an emerging writer in poetry, and was the winner of the 2012 Artsmith Literary Award for her poem “Summer of Ladybugs.”

Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

And Into the Cornfield He Disappeared Out of Their Sight
Victor Florence

We found my grandfather’s jawbone
in a cornfield just about fifty miles
north of Carbondale. It was half-buried
next to a quarter-sized fiddle without
a back. My father spat and picked up
the bone and rubbed his calloused thumb
along the teeth. The stalks breathed
July against my navel and the tall
thunderstorm clouds moved south towards
the highway, flashing every now and then
like notes beneath a crooked bow.


Victor Florence is a Tampa based poet.
He graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.A. in English.

Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

Head of Ulna
Robert Annis

Your finger-bones, cold
on my neck, seem surprised
to find skin around my spine.
Don’t be alarmed, I’m a skeleton

just like you — white and dry
as an empty page. Tear my lips
away and we share a human smile.
Touch my wrist, the wrapping’s

thinner here. Press the notch, feel
hardness pushing back, through muscle
and hair. I am beautiful bones
just like you. I am hips, hidden

from the heat of the stars. I am ribs
shivering like a xylophone. I am
a skull, weak as a crowning child,
waiting to be yanked from the flesh.


Robert Annis is in the MFA program at the University of South Florida. He has studied under Jay Hopler, Katherine Riegel, Jennifer Clarvoe, and James Kimbrell. His work has appeared in Ubernothing Literary Magazine and Thread.

Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

Reality
Sage Kalmus

I guess I should start by telling you how I found out I got cast. It came by fortune cookie.

You see, my parents kicked me out this morning so I’m going taxidermal on myself in a pile of shrimp chow mein over at the China Garden in the mall food court. After I’m about fit to be mounted, I push the plate from my sight and snatch up the cookie, crack it open and read:

YOU’RE A STAR. SHINE YOUR LIGHT FOR ALL TO SEE.

And I’m like—Sorry, wrong number. But then I notice the 4-letter signature at the end. It doesn’t look Chinese at all. More like calligraphy versions of the American letters H-O-S-T. I get this shiver.

I reach for the second cookie (they always give you two) and like pulling a pin from a grenade, I pry it apart to see:

THE GAME IS ON. PLAY YOUR HEART OUT.

And I’m like—Oh. My. God.

I start shaking all over and flapping my wrists like some tweaked out bird and I’m on my feet looking all around and I don’t even remember standing. So I sit back down and I’m like—Get a grip, Melanie. I mean, it was only a matter of time.

I’ve lost count of how many audition videos I sent out. I do two rounds a year, for Spring and Winter seasons. Sometimes an extra one for Summer shows, if they sound any good. Of course, I cater each video to the specific show but the gist is…

“Hi, I’m Melanie Grumm. I’m 26 years-old and I live at home with my parents and brat sister in Sarasota, Florida. I don’t have a career or job or hobbies or any of that. I did take one semester at junior college, but dropped out when I realized it’s not worth drowning in debt over if you don’t even know what you want to do when you graduate. I spend most of my time at home listening to music, catching up with my shows, and watching my brat sister outshine me in all possible ways. Or I go hang out at the mall.

“I’m not an exciting person. I don’t live an exciting life. But that’s exactly why you should put me on your show. Everyone on these things is either pretty or smart or athletic or interesting. I’m none of those. I’m the one thing you never see on reality TV. Someone just like the viewers at home. I’m Jane Average. I think it’s important people see they’re not alone.”

I guess some producer bought it. I just wish I knew which one. This opening sure isn’t like any I’ve seen, and I’ve seen them all. But they’re always trying new twists each season, so it could be any of them. I guess if they wanted me to know which show this is, someone would have come out and told me. Instead I get this fortune cookie…sorry, two cookies. Which makes me think this is a new show and I have to figure out the rules as I go. That’s the game.

Which means, I could be losing valuable time. So now I start looking around for anything fishy. I’m careful not to notice the cameras, you don’t want to look into them except in the confessionals or they won’t use your footage. But you can’t not look at them either, once you know where they are. It’s human nature. So my plan is to never know where they are in the first place. What I’m checking out is the people, to see if anyone else here is in on it. But they all seem to be doing their own thing.

So I decide it’s got to be in the clues. I smooth them out on the table and read them over and over til everything’s blurry, looking for codes, keywords. Nothing. Eventually I flip the stupid things over so I don’t have to look at them anymore, and that’s when I see—Duh—there’s numbers on the back!

Lucky numbers, you know? That’s got to be it! So now I reread them until I’m crosseyed and then I scour all the menu boards, figuring they must have something to do with it. But that only makes me dizzier. So I turn back to the seating area, and this time I see them right away. Fliers. Standard 4×6 cardstock, red. One on every table, including where I had just been stuffing my face. Funny how sometimes you can’t see what’s right in front of you until you’re looking for it.

Karaoke Contest, Ruby Tuesday, Sarasota Square Mall,
Tonight, Entry Free for Contestants.

Contestants, that’s me! I can’t wait to meet the others.

To make sure this really is the first challenge, I compare the lucky numbers to the flier, and sure enough—the phone number, address, store number, entry fee, time. I mean, the digits are all rearranged, but they’re all there.

The only thing left is to find the confessional and report in. Turns out that’s the easy part. I mean, of course they’d make it look like a photo booth.

Day 2

I’m so embarrassed.

It didn’t occur to me I was actually going to have to sing at this thing. No one wants that. When I sing in the shower, the water runs back up the pipes. But I can’t back out. So I decide my strategy will be to just have fun with it. It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people stiffen up in front of a crowd.

I pick “Take A Chance On Me” from Mamma Mia—I love that movie! I think it’s amazing how they got the songwriters to come up with the perfect words and music for the story. I hope they write a sequel. Anyway, so I’m strutting around the stage like — Who’s your daddy? I think most of it goes over their heads. I don’t win, but I’m not the worst either. That’s some round kid in Spandex who gets so into “Don’t Cry Out Loud” that by the end he’s crying so loud he can’t finish. He looks like one of those silver party balloons leaking its helium. I feel so bad.

Josie Takami wins (first reward is dinner for 4 on Ruby) and she totally deserves it. She owns the stage with luscious Jason Mraz’s “The Remedy” getting the whole crowd singing along and bunny-hopping so the bar racks are all shaking like they’re gonna pop. Josie’s Japanese, like from the real Japan, not Japantown or anything like that. She says she’s been doing Karaoke since she was 3. I didn’t even know Japan had Karaoke.

I go to sleep with Josie’s song in my head —Ahhhhhhhyyyy won’t worry my life awayyyy. Hey hey! Woa woa woa. I don’t even realize I’m humming aloud til my sister bangs on the wall.

Yeah, I should explain.

When I told you my parents kicked me out, what I meant was they said I can still sleep there and eat breakfast and dinner there, but from 8 to 6, I’m banished to find a job and my own place. I didn’t mean to make them sound so evil. I mean, I get it. They only want me to get my act together. I just couldn’t begin to tell you what that is…if not this. Good thing they expect me to be at the mall right now.

“Can you keep a secret?”

Here it is, Day 2, and already I’m about to break the Cardinal Rule of Reality TV. I can’t help it. It’s Gus. I just hope I don’t get kicked off for it.

Gus is basically my best friend by default. I’m not being mean, he’d put it the same way. You see, all my friends went off to college or got jobs and popped out babies, while Gus moved here from Miami a year ago to be with his lover Hey-Zeus (that’s Jesus in Spanish) and he works all the time at the American Eagle at the mall so he doesn’t have a life either. He and Hey-Zeus broke up three months ago, which has only made him more of a shut-in. Gus is short for Gustavo.

Right now he leans against a lamppost by his store’s entrance, gripping a lit Benson & Hedges 100 menthol between two brassy fingers and pursing his lips at me—his way of showing me he’s offended I would even question his loyalty. I want to tell him that pout is redundant when your mouth already looks like a change purse, but there’s more important things on my mind like, “I got picked.”

“For what?”

“What do you think?”

“Really? Ohmigod, hon. You’re gonna be famous!” Gus is built like he’s got a body-pillow stitched down the front of his shirt, so he’s a terrific hugger. “When did they call you?”

“They didn’t.”

“Then what? Get talking, girl. My heart can’t take the suspense.”

So I tell him.

His face goes blank. He sticks his cig between his perma-pout, takes a long drag. Blows it all out. “Should I be worried?”

“I think I’ve got a good shot.”

He jabs his unfinished butt into the ash-can. “So I should be worried.”

“About what?”

He grabs my shoulders. “Earth to Mel! You can’t be serious.”

“Why not? I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.”

“I know, hon.” He tilts his head and seeks my eyes. (Like I’m not already looking at him?) “But it’s not real.”

I break away and back up. “How do you know?”

“Because that’s not how they do it.”

“Oh? When did you become the reality TV expert?”

“OK, where are the cameras?”

“They’re everywhere! Up in the corners, one’s right there.” I point, without looking.

“Those are security cameras.”

“Yeah, cool effect, don’t you think?”

He heaves a sigh like letting air out from a tire—short, fast and taking two inches off his height. Then he pulls out another cig and shoves it in his mouth so hard, I think it’s gonna break. He lifts his lighter—one of those see-through, extra-long kind, in royal blue—and starts fumbling with it. Like those fingers that fold two hundred shirts a day suddenly can’t remember how to flick a Bic. Poor guy, he must be tired. I help.

He blows his plume out the side of his mouth. It makes him look like he’s smirking.

“You’re gonna be late,” I say.

But that doesn’t faze him. He spends the next 10 minutes trying to convince me I’m making the whole game up. I shoot holes in every argument til he’s down to smoking filter, and he goes, “Have you spoken about this with any of these other…contestants?” (He says it like they’re my imaginary friends.)

“Some of them.”

He tosses his butt to the curb, as though the ash-can suddenly didn’t exist, and goes, “What have they said?” He does sound tired. I bet it’s working all those doubles.

“You know people will say anything to win.”

He sighs again and looks at his watch. “OK, look. Don’t tell anybody else about this.”

“Whatever.”

“I’m serious. Promise me.”

“What-ever.”

At least now I understand today’s clue:

SUCCESS IS KNOWING ALLIES FROM ADVERSARIES.

One bananaberry smoothie later, followed by 20 minutes under Fye headphones, I realize the clue has nothing to do with Gus. I mean, that would be ridiculous. These shows are always splitting players into teams at the start. So the clue must mean today’s challenge is to find my team.

I spend the rest of the day working this out and I think I’ve got it. The 16 singers last night are the cast, that’s obvious. Today I discover all of us are mall people—8 work here, at one of the stores or for the mall itself, and 6 plus me are regulars. The 16th, the meepy round kid, was nowhere to be found. Obviously the first eliminated. (Thank God it wasn’t me. That’s the worst!)
So there we have it. Employed versus Un. I’m just glad it’s not boys against girls. That’s so played.

Day 5

I’m OK! That settled—Owie! Owie! Owie!

As you all got to witness last challenge, I took a beach volleyball to the cranium. Never thought I’d be the one pulled from the game by an emergency.

So I’m on my back seeing stars and feeling a little drunk, getting loaded onto a gurney and trucked to the E.R.. I’m told the guy who pelts me, Zack (from my own team, no less) takes the ride with me, though all I remember is hearing muddled voices repeating—Who was that girl anyway? I thought she was with you. At the hospital, he brings me tulips, peanut clusters, a Beanie Bear and a crazy-intense apology (which how can I not accept?) and then waits outside while they check if I have a concussion, which it turns out I don’t, thank God. Of course this doesn’t stop Mom and Dad from having a conniption when they see my black eye.

They want me in therapy so bad they’re trying anything short of bribing me. It’s ’cause they know they can’t force me. What are they gonna do? Throw me out? I bet they regret playing that card so soon.

But if I think Mom and Dad are bad, wait til I get a load of the Cuban missile crisis I provoke when Gus sees my eye. He threatens to tell my parents about what he’s now taken to calling my “little fantasy.” I want to tell him he’s bluffing (which he is) but he would take that as a dare. So instead I tell him I’ll stop.

Later I try to get Naomi Fincher to form an alliance with me, pointing out that I pose no threat to her. She’s not a very nice person, you know. She acts like she doesn’t even know what I’m talking about. She thinks she’s such hot you-know-what. Well, I’ll tell you one thing. That Atlanta accent is fake. I happen to know for a fact she grew up in Daytona Beach.

Day 7

For the latest task, we have to model for this fashion and beauty show put together by a few of the mall shops. Ann Taylor does the girl’s clothes. Brooks Brothers, the boys. Traxx, the hair and makeup for both. The theme is Everyday Chic and the concept—that any Jane or Joe Schmo can look like a supermodel with no more than a beauty treatment and the right wardrobe. That’s why we make such perfect models. No one gives any of us a second glance…except for Princess Naomi, of course, who people can’t stop gawking at. I wouldn’t want that.

Anyway, the winning models of each sex and their teams of consultants win a day at the spa that’s next to Macy’s.

For my makeover, they pair me with Chantal. At first I’m bummed because, after all, she was from the other team. Even if we have merged, loyalties run deep in these things. Grudges too. Remember, Chantal was the one who tried to run me down in that mad obstacle course race in the parking lot.

But as of now, that’s all in the past, because Chantal has turned out to be the sweetest person I have ever met. And talented?! Oh my God, when she’s done with me, I don’t even recognize myself. She even covers up my shiner with this sparkly, deep purple eyeshadow. For the first time ever, I look like a real woman. I didn’t know that was possible.

I wish she had been on our team from the start. I’m going over to her house on one of her days off after shooting is over and she said she’ll teach me how to put all this stuff on myself. I can’t wait.

But the best part of the day, and the biggest shocker, is the guys. It’s like they all took insta-hunk pills for lunch. Especially Zack. Where has he been hiding that guy? All of a sudden, he’s Orlando Bloom in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Your Royal High-and-Mightyness wins (big surprise) but if I get booted off this round, it won’t be so bad, ’cause at least I had this experience. I always thought that was such a line when people said that, almost always right after getting voted off.

But now I know.

Day 8

They took my car! Can you believe it? I rode the bus here today. I haven’t done that since junior high. I guess Mom and Dad had another Ace up their sleeve after all. It’s cause my brat sister ratted me out. I ran into her in the elevator yesterday holding some guy’s hand after the fashion show. She says she saw the whole thing. I’m like, “So?” Apparently she’s got a boyfriend now. And what’s worse, he seems like a really great guy (for a 13-year-old.) What am I saying?!

Well, she can have the rusty old go-cart, for all I care. ‘Cause I know that’s what’ll happen. Mom and Dad’ll just store it in the garage for 3 years until the Golden Child gets her permit. It’s sick, really. My parents think she’s the best thing to come along since the Keurig (never mind I’m pretty sure she came first.) They don’t see her for the mutant, savant…alien she is (And I mean E.T. alien, not the border-crossing kind.) I think it’s mind control. She’s half my age, if that gives you any indication where their heads were at when they had her. I guess they held out as long as they could to see if their first born would amount to anything before taking one last desperate stab. Kudos for them. Looks like the second time was the charm.

Anyway, today’s lucky numbers refer to the vacant storefronts on the mall directory. This is our biggest challenge yet, finding businesses to breathe new life into these shells. I don’t know the first thing about commercial real estate, but I’m not about to lay down now.

What I do is call up all my favorite stores (the one’s that aren’t already here, of course) and tell them how much my friends and I love their stuff and how we’d shop there all the time if they were only at our mall. They don’t need to know my friends don’t live here anymore or that I have no money. The rest is totally true. I end every call with, “Tell them Melanie sent you.”

When my battery dies, I use the mall phone in the customer service lounge. Once they hear what I’m up to, they let me stay on as long as I want.

Well, not to be anticlimactic but as I predict, Bryson wins. I hear it’s a cash reward too (though he insists its just a “commission.”) Personally, I think a rental agent should be disqualified from this type of challenge.

But what I’m really upset about is Josie is the one eliminated this round. They say her, “student visa expired.” That’s creative. I wonder how they’ll put it when my turn comes—”Paying customers only?”

Josie and I had so much fun with that quiz challenge the other day. I like how they called it a “consumer survey.” We took it together so we could compare answers. And it worked! Neither of us flunked.

I was hoping to take Josie with me to the finale. I should know better. You can’t plan your life around other people.

Day 10

Yesterday cheered me up a little. Nothing like someone trying you bring you down to force you to pull yourself back up. That Naomi, she’s such a…oh I’ll say it—Bitch! (I know, you’ll have to edit that out, but it felt good just to get it on record.) You know what she says to me? “I don’t even believe there is a game. I think you’re nuts. I’ve just been playing along ’cause I think it’s funny.”

Well, I’ll show her funny. I’m gonna win this task. Then I’m gonna make sure she’s the next one kicked off.

The clue says:

IF YOU NEVER STAND FOR SOMETHING,
YOU CONSENT TO LOSING IT ALL.

But the “IT” is smudged so it looks like “CONSENT TO LOSING MALL” and I’m like—Did they do that on purpose? Then I have an instant panic attack, ’cause I’m thinking—Lose the mall?! I knew things were sluggish from the economy and all but I had no idea they were thinking of selling out. Sure enough, Lancaster, the mall cop, tells me the owners are considering an offer from investors who want to build an office building here. A volunteer group is collecting signatures to present to the mall’s Board of Directors to convince them not to sell. So I’m like, “Where do I sign up?”

He takes me to this place in the mall I never knew existed. (Me! I know, right?) It’s called the…Con-see-urge Desk. (It’ll take me a while to get that right.) I guess they’re like Mall Hosts…or Hostesses in this case. Her name is Pam, according to her name tag, which also tells me she’s Head of the Concii…yeah.

That’s got to be the funnest job in the world—Mall Hostess. It’s the first one I’ve heard of that sounds made for me.

Pam hands me a clipboard of petitions with a pen on a string tied to it. “There’s no pay for this,” she reminds me. But I tell her with a wink, “That’s okay. Sometimes winning a challenge is its own reward.”

Well I’ll tell you, I have never talked to so many people in one day in my life and every single one signed my petition, without fail. I’m sure I won this task. Take that, Naomi Fincher.

Save the mall!

Day 12

I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m the last one left from my original team and it’s not at all like it should be. I thought it would feel…I don’t know. Triumphant, you know?

Zack got hired at Guitar Center in town. I know I should be happy for him, but it means he has to quit the game. We get a day off from challenges thanks to him. But I’d rather the challenge. To top it off, that means Naomi’s still in.

Then Gus has to get in my face with his friend the personal trainer who’s Chinese and swears up and down the Host’s signature on my clues really means “Seven Flower Snack Foods.”

And now I got this couple of gorillas in heat outside, pounding on the booth and shouting that I didn’t put any money in so I should either get on with it or get out.

I really wish the producers would step in and handle this.

Day 14

Well, it’s down to the Final 3 and somehow I’m still here. One more elimination til the final round, and I won’t lie, I’m nervous now. There’s me and Lancaster and Naomi. Bryson went home in the last challenge and he’s the only one I’m sure I could have beat. Even after winning that real estate task, he still never did take this game seriously. I’m surprised he lasted this long.
I don’t want to have to face Naomi in the finale. She’s so conniving she’ll do whatever it takes to make me look bad. She doesn’t care about winning so much as about other people losing. But Lancaster’s just as tough in a different way. He knows everybody and they all adore him. So if it’s the two of us facing the jury, I don’t stand a chance either.

The clue:

PURSUE A DESTINY THAT HELPS REALIZE ANOTHER’S
AND YOU HELP REALIZE YOUR OWN.

Choose my own task? That’s a neat twist.

It’s makes sense. Tough choices are always part of the final stages of these things. Now that it’s down to the last few standing, they want you to show them what you’re made of.

So now I’ve just got to find someone with a dream and help them make it come true. How hard can that be?

Day 15

Lancaster got fired this morning, which I’m pretty sure means he’s out of the game too. So it’s down to me and Naomi, after all—the Final 2. I feel bad for Lancaster, but I’m not worried about him. After this airs, companies will be lining up to hire him.

As for yesterday’s challenge, I decide the best task I can give myself to fit the clue would be to get Gus and Hey-Zeus back together. I was there when it fell apart, so I know their breakup was stupid and they both regret it. I mean, you should have seen them. You’d have said they were made for each other.

So, I arranged an intimate evening for 3 that stretched into an all-nighter full of laughter and tears. And when it was over? Well, I can’t get into all the gory details ’cause it’s not my business to tell. But let’s just say it doesn’t always take Dr. Phil to save the world.

Finale

THE STEPS OF YOUR JOURNEY DESCRIBE THE DESTINATION

A lot of people come to Sarasota for the beach. But when you grow up here, unless you get into surfing or whatever, you grow bored of it pretty fast. I prefer the mall, where there’s air-conditioning, clean bathrooms, a 20-theater googleplex and whatever food you could possibly want to eat. And did I mention clean bathrooms? I tell you all this because the final clue is a trick clue that takes me to the one place I least want to be.

The clue is clear. I have to compile all the clues from all the previous challenges and arrange them into one big treasure map that will lead to some object, like a totem or flag. The first person to find it wins.

Naomi’s out there on the opposite end of the shoreline, sunning herself. It’s her way of shoving it in my face that she doesn’t think I stand a chance. I tune her out, focusing only on digging with my plastic shovel from the Dollar Store. Occasionally I check my map again (if you can call my chicken scratch on the back of a lunch tray liner that) stand up, retrace some steps, then plop down in a different spot close by and resume digging.

All day I’m doing this in the broiling heat, digging holes like some OCD toddler. I’m at it til my cuticles are raw, my shorts are a permanent tattoo on my rear, I’ve got tears caked onto my cheeks in gritty clusters, Coppertone and charcoal smells coat my nasal passages and everything aches. And still I’m like, “It’s got to be here! I know it!” Babbling and bawling on national TV. “It can’t be all in my head! It’s real! It’s got to be!” Everyone walking by gives me the same pitying turn of the head.

At some point, the late afternoon coolness washes the beach clear and I realize that soon it’ll start getting dark fast. I see Naomi leaving empty-handed and I don’t want to think about what that might mean. Then Gus, just off work, comes down to check on his looney-toons best-friend-by-default. He’s like, “OK Melanie, it’s time to stop this. Let’s go back to the mall, get you cleaned up, and I’ll treat you to a smoothie.”

“I don’t want a smoothie! And if you don’t support me, then I don’t want you here either.” I figure that’s bound to make him leave me there like a bad date, but next thing I know he crouches onto his hands and knees, all grunting and joints popping. And would you believe, he starts digging there beside me?

I stop what I’m doing and look at him. Just…look. I prop myself on my knees, arms limp at my sides, and watch as he sifts through heaps of sand, only to see them to slide back into place and fill back up the dents he just made.

“Stop it,” I say, barely a whimper at this point. But he keeps at it, sweeping up wave after wave of sand. It’s flying in his face and he winces and gags as it gets in his eyes and mouth. But the stubborn you-know-what keeps at it. And again, I’m like, “Stop it,” but louder now.

And he goes, “No, we’ll find it.” And I realize he’s serious. And suddenly I get really concerned.

I reach out and put my hands on his and hold them as still as I can, ’cause I’m trembling. “It’s over,” I say, “There’s nothing to find.”

He meets my eyes, his brassy scoops still half-buried in sand, and says, “You sure?”

“It was fun while it lasted,” I say, forcing a giggle.

He drops back onto his rear and looks at me, or into me, really. He’s not ready to feel relieved yet; he won’t let himself til he makes sure I’m not playing him…again. I don’t blame him. Let him look, he’ll see.

I notice my reflection in his pupils, itty-bitty in an open sea. And I watch the waves roll in and out, through his eyes, as I let the dread pass of crumbling like a sand castle beneath their battering ram. To my back, the moon shines a rippling stripe on the heaving water’s black surface, the spine of a person praying. And after I’m not sure how long, I’m like, “What happens now?”

Back at the mall I slink inside the restroom by the carnival rides to rinse off as much of my humiliation as I can. I step out into an ambush.

Standing there in front of the carousel, a backdrop of wild-maned horses in golden saddles galloping frivolously by, is this mass of people, and not just any people—Chantal, Lancaster, all the ones I’d made a fool of myself in front of over the past couple weeks, including a few who got voted off my make-believe island before I could learn their names. Bryson is here in his rental agent suit, with what looks like a blank form and a pen in his hand. Pam, the Head Concierge, is here too, and she’s also got a blank form in her folded hands, along with a name tag like hers, except with her thumb covering the blank where the name goes. Others who I don’t recognize look like they’ve just gathered around to see what’s going on.

Gus bounds into sight with Hey-Zeus suddenly on his arm, and before I can ask what’s up they both point to a bench behind me.

Sitting there is Zack, all patient and wearing the dorkiest grin. It’s crippling.

On his lap is a lunch tray from the food court. On that is a small white plate. And on that is a fortune cookie. Not like the ones from China Garden. This one’s bigger, and a little lumpier. It looks custom made. And it’s still warm.

Normally I’d think they were making fun of me now, except everyone’s smiles are so…real.

So I figure it’s my turn to play along.

I pick up the cookie and pull it apart (’cause it doesn’t really crack) and I unfold this mondo-sized fortune and read:

CONGRATULATIONS, MELANIE. YOU WON!

I turn cherry-red. And I want to burrow into one of those holes I just dug, like some sunburned sand crab. But then I look at all the faces huddled around watching me, waiting to see what happens next. And I have to smile. Because I know this may not be real, but it’s true.


Sage Kalmus is a 40-year-old gay male freelance writer living off-the-grid in the foothills of western Maine. He self-published his first novel, Free Will Flux (FreeWillFlux.com), a work of metaphysical fiction, and he is currently working on his second novel. He believes we are all interconnected.

Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

Karma
Diane Farone

Everyone thinks Cinderella is about ultimate justice for the victimized. They know she won the prince, and the evil stepmother and stepsisters were put in their place. But what happened to the fairy godmother muddies the picture of fairness. Here is a missing piece of the tale.

On the day before the prince’s ball, Fairy Godmother was up to her elbows in sudsy water. She had no clean wands on hand. On her salary she couldn’t afford an electric wand-washer that would leave the starry tips spotless and sparkling. Based on seniority, management should have given her one, but the boss used them as incentives for new recruits.

She was a team player: made no complaints, gave no excuses, and accomplished tasks on schedule. What was her reward? Her beneficiaries got all the good things in life without putting forth any effort. She toiled endlessly with no appreciation. When she was fairly new at the job she tried to organize a union, since management didn’t seem to notice or base decisions on merit. Others refused to support her. She resigned herself to a Pollyanna perspective. She was lucky to have a job. She couldn’t fight her destiny. Or was it her DNA that trapped her? It didn’t really matter whether a force field of fate or commanding chemicals carried out some prearranged plan for her. She was born to work.

Many believe that fairies can conjure up whatever they want whenever they want it. Magic isn’t like that though. Fairy Godmother’s powers worked within limits and according to strictly defined procedures. The day of the ball she looked at her checklist of required items: magic wand, fairy dust, one pumpkin, six mice, one rat, six lizards, and band aids in case of blisters from new shoes. Who scheduled this assignment for October 31? All the best pumpkins were already converted into jack-o-lanterns. Six horses and six footmen seemed excessive for one small maiden. Nevertheless, Fairy Godmother did her best to round up what the recipe required.

Ever hopeful, she headed for the pumpkin patch. The ground was as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. When a horseman approached at a fast and furious pace she thought it might be her lucky day. He carried a pumpkin under his arm. She meant to persuade him to trade it for the Wizard of Oz’s used crystal ball. But his horse screeched to a halt, reared up, and swerved sharply to the left. To avoid flying out of the saddle the horseman grabbed its cantle with both hands, dropping the pumpkin. Fairy Godmother’s stomach somersaulted as she looked at her clean, shiny wand. Its gleam might have caused the charger to bolt.

“Wait,” she called to the horseman. But he had already disappeared into a distant darkness.

Fairy Godmother approached the dropped pumpkin, which looked in worse shape than Humpty Dumpty after the fall. A wave of her wand could have changed it into a coach, but one in need of massive repairs to its cracked shell. All the body shop guys were home preparing to celebrate the holiday with their little trick-or-treaters. In her desperation she decided to make do with a gourd from a neighboring field. Her intentions were good, and the desired result for Cinderella was achieved. Nevertheless, she felt she had to falsify her report to conceal her indiscretion.

After such an unsettling compromise of her standards, Fairy Godmother suffered a mixture of guilt and resentment. She turned to spirits to ease her churlishness. Under the influence of Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, she let her secret slip. When the story got to management, Fairy Godmother was summarily dismissed. The report said she was fired for cause, not eligible for unemployment compensation.

Disconsolate she went to her favorite local coffee shop to peruse the classifieds. In her search for gainful employment she heard many excuses for not hiring her: you’re overqualified, you may not have the strength and stamina we need, you don’t have the skills we’re looking for. Finally she received an offer for a cinder maid’s position, which had been vacated when the former occupant married and moved away. Many had turned down the job when they discovered the harsh working conditions. Fairy Godmother, desperate for work, accepted the job, counting on her determination, endurance, and resourcefulness to see her through until something better might come along.


Diane Farone, a lifelong fan of fairy tales and other truth-rendering fiction, has been happy to turn her writing efforts from academic publications in the publish or perish world of academia to writing for fun in her retirement. Ever the student, she has been studying creative writing through the Writers Studio.

Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

Movie Star
Susan Meyers

Something was wrong; this was the wrong child. She was plump and shapeless: a grisly little mouse of a girl; blonde hair frizzed out like bubbled Coke. “Helen Granger?” The airline stewardess pushed the little girl toward her, and Helen felt herself nod. “Angela here says you’re her grandmother.”

Helen’s granddaughter took her hand, and Helen started at the feel of those squishy fingers pressed against her.

The stewardess nodded, “I hope you have a nice visit together.” Her lipstick had smeared during the flight so that one part of her lip grinned colorlessly, as though it had been removed.

Helen smiled politely. “Thank you.”

The woman turned to leave, and then they were alone: Helen and the quiet little girl. Like a child wrapped in thick lining, Angela was so much larger than she had ever been.

“When did I see you last, Angie?” Helen cleared her throat. “August, wasn’t it? You and your mom came down right at the end of the summer, didn’t you? Before you started fourth grade?”

Angela looked up, her lips pressed tightly: “Yeah.” She was pudgy and round—a good twenty pounds heavier than eight months before—but every inch of her was tensed in the stale, sleepy way of long stress. Already, it was so easy to recognize the effect that the divorce was having on the child; she was quite simply coming undone.

#

Helen kept her apartment in impeccable condition, although she had lived alone for the past eleven years, since Walter had died. Still, she had prepared carefully for her granddaughter’s visit, buying new Kleenex boxes, toilet paper, plastic drinking cups, and paper towels. She had left the wrappers and price tags on everything, so that Angela could see how clean and new things were here: how comfortable and safe a haven was her grandmother’s home.

She’s doing pretty well, all considering, Helen’s daughter Lydia had assured her the week before. But she has gotten a little more quiet. And she likes things clean. Try not to let her wash her hands too much, Lydia had added as an afterthought. She tends to overdo that.

Helen set the olive green suitcase in the guest bedroom and watched Angela walk into the bathroom, turn on the faucet, and come back. The little girl’s hands were chapped from overuse, lightly scabbed skin coloring the creases at her knuckles.

“Angela, dear,” Helen shut the bathroom door neatly behind them. “What would you like for lunch?”

The girl tilted her head, drying between her fingers on a corner of the thick yellow t-shirt she wore.

“Or maybe you’re not hungry? Maybe you ate on the plane?” Helen added hopefully. “We could just have a light lunch: some fruit and yogurt. How does that sound?”

Angela hopped up onto the guest bed, scootching herself backward with her butt: “Ok.”

#

In the kitchen, Angela ate two yogurt cups: one berry flavored and one peach. She ate an apple, too, and asked whether or not she could have some of the cereal that was sitting on top of the refrigerator. Cautiously, Helen poured a small bowl of cornflakes and watched it go down. Angela wanted another bowl.

“Oh, look at the time—it’s nearly three o’clock!” Helen slapped a palm against the countertop. “How about a quick dip in the pool, Angie, before it gets too late?”

Angela nodded, sucking the last of her milk from the spoon like it was something sacred. Minutes later, she emerged from the guestroom with a loose t-shirt pulled down over her swimsuit, pasty-colored legs jiggling as she walked. “Can I have a towel?” Helen handed her one, and she wrapped it snuggly around her middle.

#

Five short days, that’s all they had. Five days in the California sun: a week to forget the misery at home in Oregon, the locked doors and terrifying sobs. Was Lydia, Helen wondered, letting women stay over these nights while her daughter was gone? Was she actually giving into this—this new fetish of hers? And what would Angela think, returning home, to find an extra hairbrush by the sink? Or an unfamiliar set of underclothes draped beside her mother’s laundry?

Out at the community pool, Helen tendered the subject cautiously. “So,” she started. “What does your mom tell you, Angie—about her and your dad?”

Angela looked up briefly, her arms fluttering through the water, not quite gracelessly. “They were having problems,” she answered. “For a long time.”

“Oh, well,” Helen sat back in her chair at the side of the pool. “A lot of couples have problems. Marriage isn’t easy, you know.”

Angela watched her grandmother briefly before flipping backward and surging under the water. Helen cleared her throat. “What kind of problems?” she raised her voice once Angela had come bobbing back to the surface at the far end of the pool.

Angela shook her head.

“Well, I suppose that’s kind of personal, huh?” Helen squinted into the sun. “She doesn’t want to tell you everything.”

The girl nodded. “She used to like her teachers. The girl ones. But then she forgot about it for a long time.”

Helen gripped the sides of her chair. “Well,” she forced a laugh. “Kids say things sometimes. But you never really know.”

Angela shut her eyes and turned her face toward the sun. Her fingers spread through the water, the cotton t-shirt floating around her like the cap of a jellyfish. Helen watched the girl flip herself downward again and move deliciously through the water back toward her. She was quick in the pool, athletic. For a brief moment, Helen could almost forget about the puffy lines at the edges of the bathing suit, the chalk-like skin and brittle hair. When her granddaughter surfaced again at the edge of the pool beneath her, she was breathing hard, but smiling. She set both her elbows on the tiled rim and rested her head along them, letting her body relax into the water, stretched out along her stomach so the meat of her buttocks bounced upward behind her.

“Divorce is a terrible thing,” Helen blinked once more into the lengthening sunlight. It was only April, but the weather was already beginning to fester. “It’s very sad.”

“My mom is happier now,” Angela answered.

“She told you that?”

The girl nodded, her cotton-covered butt bouncing up and down along the water’s movement. Helen’s head shook lightly. A nine-year-old, she supposed, wouldn’t care; she wouldn’t know any better. But Helen had noticed her daughter’s gradual transformation: her hair cut shorter and shorter, the dark-colored pants and button-down shirts she wore. A friend at Helen’s senior center had explained lesbian couples: some of them dress like men, and others keep dressing like women. The butch and the femme, like heterosexual couples. Butch. Helen hated that word. Why couldn’t her daughter have chosen the other side? The one that more closely resembles normal life?

And now, even Angela was looking genderless and pathetic: shapeless yellow shirt attached to shapeless blue bottom. There was no attention to appearance—no elegance, no style. “Angie,” she asked lightly, “How would you like to go shopping tomorrow?”

Angela looked up. “Ok,” she agreed, her head bobbing back and forth in the water, loose as a string-held balloon. And Helen shivered.

#

“So, what would you like to get?” The department store was filled with spring attire: skirts and swimsuits and brightly-colored tops. But Angela just shook her head. “Isn’t there anything you want? Something nice and summery?”

“I dunno.”

“Well,” Helen stared down at the new combination of cotton t-shirt and baggy sweatpants that Angela had selected for the day. “Why don’t we start with something simple. How about a nice pair of jeans?” She motioned toward a rack of girls’ pants. “Look, they have them in all different colors. What size are you?”

Angela looked down at the rack of techincolor denim but didn’t answer. Helen picked up a bright pink pair and held them up to her granddaughter. “What size are the pants you’re wearing, honey?”

Angela looked down helplessly, and Helen reached around to grab the elastic at her back, pulling the inner tag toward her: Large. “Humph,” she said. “That’s not going to help us with jeans. Well, try this. Size sixteen. That’s about as big as it gets.”

Angie went into the dressing room and came out empty handed. “What happened?”

“I don’t like them.”

“What do you mean? What did they look like? Did they fit?”

“I dunno. Maybe. I just don’t like them.”

“C’mon back and let’s try it again. I’ll help you.” Helen stood outside the door while Angie slipped out of her sweatpants again and into the jeans. She came out, her t-shirt shoved down over the beltline.

“Let’s see,” Helen said, lifting the t-shirt fringe. The jeans cut into the girl’s flesh; she had zipped them, but the button remained unfastened. “I see. OK, well maybe we can try the juniors section. They make things a little bigger.”

In juniors, they did find a pair of pants that fit, although Angela had to roll up the bottoms. And she refused the trendy acid wash jeans that Helen favored, choosing instead a pair of standard denim: stiff, dark, and unbleached. They fit her, Helen thought, like a soldier’s uniform: stiff and gentlemanly and nearly as unflattering as the sweat pants had been. “Well,” Helen suggested. “How about a shirt to go with those? Something cute you might want to wear back to school?”

But every blouse she found was too short at the bottom or too low-cut across the front. Angela, with her thick tummy and newly forming breasts, shook her head at each option. “Too many buttons,” she said. Too pink, too flowery, too snug.

Back outside in the car, Helen slid the bag with its carefully folded jeans onto the backseat and turned toward her granddaughter. “Angie, dear, how long have you had to shop in the juniors section?”

The little girl shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Well,” Helen kept her voice gentle. “You might want to start being more careful about your weight. You’re going to be getting your figure soon, you know.”

Angela stared out the window.

“Angie? Did you hear me?”

Angela nodded without looking back.

“Ok, well, just promise me you’ll think about it, all right?” Helen turned the car carefully out of the parking lot. “You’ve always been such a pretty little girl. You could be a very beautiful when you grow up.”

#

“How’s she doing?”

“Oh, fine,” Helen chirped into the phone. “We went shopping today. I got Angie a nice new pair of jeans. And now I think she’s in her room drawing in that book of hers.”

“That’s good,” Lydia sounded tired. “She’s gotten very good at art over the last couple of years.”

“Yes, I suppose so.” Helen took a sip of ice water. “But Lydia, honey, aren’t you worried about Angie’s weight? I mean, the kids at school must be getting onto her about it. ”

“Mom,” Lydia’s voice stiffened. “Just let it be. It’s a phase. She’ll grow out of it.”

“Yes, I’m sure. But right now, I mean. It must be terrible for her. And then when we went shopping today, she didn’t want anything normal. She just wants to wear those sweat pants all the time.”

“They make her comfortable.”

“Well, I know, but they aren’t very pretty on her. And she doesn’t like feminine styles, either.”

Lydia made a noise in the background, like a thick-bottomed container set down heavily against a tabletop. “So what if she doesn’t like pink? She’s nine years-old. She doesn’t know what the hell she wants yet. Just don’t bug her about it.”

Helen swallowed; she made her voice as soothing as possible. “I understand, Lydia. But I just think that—well, you know. If she’s not going to have a normal role model, there ought to be some kind of compensation. I thought I could get her some pretty things.”

“Mom, just leave it. Please don’t talk to her about this stuff. Just have some fun with her. She needs that, ok?”

Helen blinked. “Yes, of course. Of course we’ll have fun. Angie and I always have fun together.”

“Yes, Mom—I know.”

#

When Helen got off the phone, she found Angela in the guest bedroom sprawled out across the floor. In front of her sat an Easter basket—two of them, actually—and she lay there sorting categorically through her candy. “Hi” she beamed. “Want some?”

Helen swallowed. “What’s all this, Angie?”

“Jelly beans and chocolate eggs,” Angela motioned carefully through each variety of candy. “I’ve got two bunnies. And there’s cream-filled eggs and . . . . ”

“Can I have this?” Helen stooped, picking up the larger of the chocolate bunnies. It felt like a trophy in her hand. Hefty and solid: a good two pounds of chocolate.

“Oh,” Angela blanched. “That one’s from my dad. I think it’s for me.”

“Ok, then,” Helen dropped the gold-foiled bunny back onto the carpet. “I’ll just take some of these,” she grabbed a handful of foil-wrapped eggs and straightened back up to amass the damage below her: jelly beans, foil-wrapped eggs, pastel-colored M&Ms, marshmallow chickens. Helen shook her head. Good Lord, she thought: two sets of Easter candy. Two parents full of apologetic treats.

#

That evening they watched a video from Helen’s collection: The Philadelphia Story, starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It was one of Helen’s favorites. She loved the way Katherine Hepburn rose up the screen like a tall, wax candle: glowing white, her waist slim as a wick; back straight, and expression poised. She was the inheritor of wealth; she was supreme society. “That’s your Aunt Kathy’s namesake,” Helen reminded her granddaughter, who lay along the floor with her sketchbook. The girl nodded lightly, her attention split between the television screen and the video box, which she was carefully copying into her notebook. “Can we have some popcorn?” she wanted to know.

Helen paused. “All right.”

In the kitchen, she prepared a small bowl of plain white kernels, no butter. But by the time she got back, Angela had fallen asleep. The girl lay quietly next to the couch, bundled up into herself, her sketchbook folded neatly shut and the thin black marker placed on top. Helen sighed, letting the popcorn bowl settle with a mild thunk against the coffee table. There she was: her Angela. Of Helen’s three grandchildren, Angela was the youngest, the only girl, and her favorite. She looked endearing, lying there against the floor: her face still sweet and rosy, despite the bloated body that engulfed her. She was like some magical combination of Helen’s daughters: Kathy’s inborn elegance, and Lydia’s quiet conviction.

The first of her daughters, Kathy had been such an easy baby: the kind that makes a new mother think, “Well, damn! I can do this after all.” She had been strong, a bit rough and tumble. Very energetic and agile, with lungs that could bellow for hours. And so Helen had just assumed that that was the way babies are—her babies, at least—healthy and heartful.

But Lydia had come out like a little crumpled leaf. She’d alarmed the doctor so much that he’d swept her away to another room before Helen had even caught a good glimpse of her. No explanation. We need to do some tests. That was all. Hours later, a different physician came in to announce that the baby’s bone formation had not been entirely successful. The infant was fine, but she was missing two ribs, and one hand and foot were noticeably smaller than their mates. It was nothing life-threatening, but Helen would need to be careful. She should be very exacting about her post-partum check-ups, and she must let them know if anything unusual occurred with her infant.

So Helen had watched her new baby furiously—though not out of devotion, but out of fear. And guilt. How had her body so betrayed the child? Not given it bones! She tried to think back to what the doctors had explained to her, about which human system forms at which month. What had she been doing, say, in the fourth month of pregnancy? What had been her diet? her stress? What had been the missing step that had left her baby so befuddled?

Throughout their early years, Helen had imagined that Kathy was the child she understood, the one that she was close with. And Lydia was the child that she coddled, cared for, and tried to preserve. But heaven forbid relating with Lydia: a small, colorless girl who somehow managed to earn straight-A’s and learned to play the cello by age eight. All this from the daughter for whom she had to buy two sets of mittens, two pairs of shoes, to account for the stunted half of her body. Not that anyone would know to look at her now. But Helen knew, and that was enough. She knew about the wasted money on shoes. Knew about those missing ribs, and how her daughter’s heart lay there inside her chest, less protected than most other hearts on this wide, brown earth.

#

When the movie was over, she clicked it off without rewinding it, and led her groggy granddaughter back to bed. Minutes later, when she was sure the girl was sleeping, she crept back into Angie’s room and slowly unclipped the little green suitcase. Then she sat there with a trash bag, carefully removing a portion of each kind of candy. Not taking all the cream-eggs, but half of them. And the same with the jelly beans, and the sprinkle-covered eggs. The girl had so much. Too much. She wouldn’t notice, would she, what was missing?

#

On Wednesday, they had plans to meet to Aunt Kathy for dinner. When Helen called that afternoon to confirm, it was her daughter who chose the restaurant. “Have you ever eaten Thai food, Angie?” Kathy asked once they had arrived.

Angela shook her head.

“Well then,” she snapped her menu open with satisfaction. “We’ll just order a bit of everything.”

“All right,” the girl scraped absently at the edge of the table cloth with her fingernail. Once the waiter had come to take their order, she excused herself to go wash up in the restroom.
“Oh Angie, be careful,” Helen reminded her as Angela slid out of the booth. “Not too much soap.” Then, once she was out of hearing range, Helen turned back toward her daughter in frustration. “Kathy, you really shouldn’t have ordered so much food.”

“Oh Mom, don’t worry about it,” Kathy beamed. “It’s my treat.”

“But Kathy, didn’t you see Angela? She needs to be put on a diet.”

Kathy’s expression narrowed. She raised the fluted linen napkin on her plate, shook it out, and placed it neatly over her lap. “I really don’t think it’s any of our business, Mom.”

“But she’s suffering,” Helen insisted. “And I don’t know what to do for her. She won’t tell me hardly anything.”

“Children don’t,” Kathy, the mother of two teen-aged boys, smiled politely at the waiter, who had returned with three blushing glasses of Thai iced tea. “All you can really do is watch them—and let them watch you.”

Kathy twirled her straw, taking a long, careful sip of iced tea; and Helen wondered how she had so lost track of both her daughters. Lydia’s case was more obvious: she had chosen a path utterly strange and impossible to follow. But Kathy remained what she had always been: impressive and beautiful. These were things that Helen had always favored, having spent her childhood in movie theaters, hoping to glimpse something extraordinary—something to aspire towards. Anything would have been better than what she’d come from: seven younger siblings, her coal miner father and his endless smell of sulfur running through the house. And her own mother, already worn out by life at thirty-six. But Helen had pulled herself up; she had moved to California, married Walter. And now she had lawyer Kathy; and Lydia, too; and her beautiful little granddaughter who, maybe Kathy was right, would eventually pull herself together.

#

“You like your aunt Kathy, don’t you, Angie?” Helen asked back at the apartment.

Angela breathed low over her sketchbook. “Uh-huh.” All throughout their meal of pad Thai noodles and green curry shrimp, Angela had watched her aunt carefully: Kathy’s slim stature, her neatly pressed suit and charming stories and careful attention to her niece.

“Do you want to see some of her old things?” Helen pressed. “I still have some. Kathy used to wear the most gorgeous dresses when she was young.” Angela stared back carefully. “She was quite fashionable.”

The closet was tightly packed and well-organized. There were Helen’s daily clothes, both shirts and pants lined up neatly on hangers. And there were plastic-covered suits and dresses, some old and some that Helen wore now and again, on special occasions. She pulled out a box. “Here’s some of them,” she said, reaching in and grabbing out a long, gabardine dress. Angie stared at it wide-eyed. “It was the style,” Helen laughed. “Pretty wild, don’t you think?” Long paisley swirls in orange and purple spun round the dress. Angela ran her hand across it, impressed. “Try it on,” she offered, undoing the zipper at the back; and Angela, dutifully pulling off that days’ chunky t-shirt, stood quietly in an undershirt and sweatpants as Helen slipped the dress over her head. Then she looked down and smiled, tugging at the fabric around her middle. “She really wore this?”

Helen’s eyes flashed: “Yes!” she laughed brightly. “Good God, I couldn’t keep her from it! That girl’s always had a mind of her own.” Angela looked down again and let herself laugh, too. A deep sense of relief flooded through Helen as she watched Angela tugging curiously at the psychedelic fabric. This is how it was meant to be, she thought. Two generations of woman cackling together about the era between them. “Here,” she offered, reaching over to lift the ridiculous garment back over her granddaughter’s head. “Let’s try another one.”

For the next half hour, they mulled together through Kathy’s old wardrobe, pulling dresses on and off of Angela’s pudgy little frame: mini-dresses with rounded collars, batik fabrics, paisley prints and seer-sucker shirt waists. Each item was bold—daring in a way that no one else in the family had ever attempted. Angela shook her head over the collective evidence of her aunt’s brazen early years, the unzipped backs of the dresses flopping loosely across her shoulder blades.

“She really was quite something,” Helen shook her head, pulling a jewel-toned rayon tent dress over Angela’s head. The girl crossed her arms over her middle and waited as Helen dipped more deeply into the closet. “Oh, look at this!”

Angela’s gaze leveled carefully over the new treasure her grandmother had unearthed: a stiff, white plastic-covered gown. It was Kathy’s wedding dress. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Helen crooned, holding the dress at arm’s length to display its full form. The dress was a tight-fitting ensemble, narrow around the neck and arms and waist. The wrists funneled like flutes, and the entire thing was covered in discreet little rows of pearls, flowing across it in swimming designs. It was beautiful and noble. A perfectly princess-like dress. Angela regarded it carefully. “Do you want to try this one on?” Helen beamed.

Angela shook her head and looked at the floor.

“No? Are you sure? It’s all right, really. We’ll just tidy it up afterward and put it back in the plastic. Kathy won’t mind.”

Angela didn’t say anything, and Helen began unzipping the bag. She pulled a sleeve loose and motioned Angela to take it. “Here, feel the fabric. Smooth, isn’t it?”

Angela fingered it and nodded.

“So, shall we try it on?” Helen loosened the zipper a little further, but Angela shook her head violently. “Honey, why not?”

“Because I’m not getting married,” she blurted.

Helen stiffened. “What do you mean, Angie? Of course you will.” Angela stood silent, still fingering the little beaded pearls along the dress cuff. “Don’t you want to marry,” Helen swallowed, “a man someday?”

Angela nodded without lifting her eyes, and Helen breathed, relieved. “Then everything’s ok. Why did you think you wouldn’t get married?”

Angela shrugged. Her skin pinkened. “I don’t think I’d look so good in a dress like that, I guess.” She fingered the fabric and looked up at the dress with its slim hips and waist—a soft elegance like the impossibly thin princesses in Walt Disney films. Aunt Kathy really could have been a movie star.

But Helen remained incredulous. “Why not?” she asked, letting the dress droop a little.

Angela looked up at her, perplexed. “I dunno,” she answered, and began to cry.

#

In the morning, Helen found the rest of the Easter candy in the garbage. Angela’s hands were bleeding again. In the bathroom, Helen discovered the little bar of soap she’d hidden in the cupboard under the sink. It was still wrapped in cellophane, but had obviously been opened, used, and reassembled. Angela had forgotten to dry the soap off before putting it back, so the moisture caught against the plastic in soft, sticky globs. Helen set it back inside the cupboard. Good God, she thought. What have I done?

“Angie, honey,” she called, moving back out into the main room “How would you like to go out today?”

Angela nodded quietly.

“Anything special you’d like to do on your last day? Maybe we could go out to a movie,” she added hopefully. “You always used to love that.”

At the theater, Helen asked if Angela wanted anything from the concession stand, but she didn’t. “Well then,” Helen made her way toward the counter, “maybe just something to drink?” And she ordered a large Coke—diet—for them to share.

The movie was a romantic comedy, sweet and charming to the end. Conflict rose between the lovers, and passed. In ninety minutes, lives were broken and perfectly realigned. The small daytime matinee audience sighed and laughed on cue, and Angela sat quietly, sipping her Coke.

“Did you like the movie?” Helen asked once they were back in the car, driving home. “I thought the actress was very pretty, didn’t you? She had hair like yours, but of course I’m sure she had to perm it to get it looking like that. You’re lucky yours is so naturally curly.”

“Ummhmm.”

Helen cleared her throat, thrumming her fingernails along the steering wheel as a brief flood of cars surged past on El Camino. “So, do you still want to be a movie star when you grow up?”

“Sure, I guess.”

“I think you’d make an excellent movie star,” Helen went on, feeling slightly breathless, as she clicked the turn signal and made a sharp right hand turn out of the parking lot. “It’s a very hard thing, you know. You have to be very talented. Your aunt Kathy tried out to be an extra once somewhere down in LA. But they told her she was too tall, so she couldn’t be in it. Can you imagine? But you’re still young; you have so much ahead of you. And you’re so pretty—all that beautiful hair of yours. You’ll just have to start small, like Kathy. Just act in some shows at school and all, and before you know it, you’ll be a big success.” Helen pulled the car into an idle at the stop light in front of her apartment complex.

“Ok,” Angela answered, fingering her seatbelt.

#

“It was very nice of you to come visit me, Angie.” At the airport the next morning, they waited in squishy chairs for Angela’s flight to be called. Angela held her sketchbook in her lap; she stared down at it without answering. “Thank you,” Helen prodded.

“You’re welcome.”

“Did you have fun?” All around them, the airport blinked and thrummed.

Angela shifted in her seat. “Yeah.”

“And are you excited to go home?”

The girl fingered her notebook. The previous evening, she had spent most of her time drawing quietly out on the patio. Helen had pulled out a pair of old movies to put on while she did the cleaning. She didn’t like silence; it always seemed to imply that something wasn’t right.

She cleared her throat. “Will you show me some of your drawings?”

Angela looked up.

“Only if you want to,” Helen reached down, adjusting the fabric of her blouse. “Just maybe one or two of them. I’d like to see.” She smiled as gently as possible, and Angela carefully opened her sketch book and began shuffling through the pages. Helen leaned over. Perched above Angie’s head, she could smell a sweet, creamy scent lifting off the girl’s scalp. Helen’s eyes fluttered shut for a moment; it was an odor that she remembered from Angela’s infancy: that light pungency of early humanness.

“Here.”

Helen opened her eyes. “What’s this?” The image was of a young woman dressed in bell bottoms and a fringed jacket standing boldly on the steps of the Berkeley law library. “Why, that’s Kathy.”

Angela nodded. “I copied it from the picture in your bedroom.”

Helen cleared her throat. “That’s quite good, Angela.” She blinked. The resemblance was astonishing: Kathy’s vibrant expression, her shoulders thrown back in a gesture of mild flirtation. “I’m impressed.”

Angela turned the page, and there was Lydia: a smaller-framed woman but still young and stylish in her college years. Her hair was short, and her face appeared slightly more blank. “That’s very good,” Helen breathed, her head bobbing lightly amidst the bump and shuffle of airport around them. “It looks just like the original.”

Angela nodded, flipping mildly through the pages without comment. There was Katherine Hepburn, Vivian Leigh, Greta Garbo: all of the images from Helen’s movie jackets copied flawlessly into Angela’s notebook. “Wait,” Helen paused. “What’s this one?” A woman stood in the center, holding herself up in a glamorous pose while a man at her feet crouched down with a camera. Behind, there were little figures etched out in the shadows. The woman didn’t seem to notice or mind them. She stared out of the picture bold and sure of herself, but her face was only half drawn. “Who is that?”
“It’s you,” Angela told her. “From the wedding picture in the living room. I copied you, and then I put the man in and stuff. See?” she held the page closer for Helen to observe. “You’re the movie star, and that’s Cary Grant,” she pointed. “They’re going to start the movie soon.”

Helen blushed mildly and stared down at her granddaughter’s drawing. The lines were confident and exact. It was a perfectly imagined reproduction of Helen as a younger woman: beautiful and unfulfilled, but with so much future still ahead of her. “Angie, why did you do this?”

“Because it’s what you wanted—you always wanted to be a movie star.”

Helen laughed lightly and tilted her head. She plucked again at the thin fabric of her blouse. It was true: all those years ago, there had been nothing better, nothing brighter, than that single, solitary dream. “Oh but Angela, that was such a long time ago.” Helen tossed her gaze briefly toward the ceiling; she had done well enough, she had to admit, with the chances life had given her. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“No,” Angela answered seriously, shoving the book closer toward her grandmother. “It does.”


Susan Meyers earned an MFA from the University of Minnesota and a PhD from the University of Arizona, and she has lived and taught in Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Currently, she teaches creative writing at Seattle University. Her work has appeared in journals such as CALYX, Dogwood, Cerise Press, and The Minnesota Review, and she has been the recipient of several awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship.

Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

The Hollow Eyes
Lydia Ship

Death continued to stare at the emperor with his cold, hollow eyes,
and the room was fearfully still.
—From “The Nightingale,” Hans Christian Andersen

When we were children, we lived in an estate filled with white porcelain stalks pocked with knotty holes of various sizes. We would peep through the holes and try to find ourselves in Mom, or stick her words to us like sticky souls.

“Pretty ankles.” Mom’s voice bounced from the porcelain, muffled inside. “Those are dancers’ ankles.”

Our ankles throbbed from standing. We stood on Persian rugs with frenzied curlicues.

“Point your toes near the bottom hole,” she said. “Good girls. The stalks very much make the room. Everyone wants them now.”

“Sure, they teach etiquette.” Robert’s black trouser legs fanned forward.

Black trousers comprised the most we ever saw of our stepdad, and stalks comprised Mom’s favorite art installation, which we had to stand within whenever adults were in the room.

“No, not for manners. For the looks! All of our works are in conversation with each other!” Mom’s wrists jangled.

We never understood Mom anymore.

“Of course. That’s what I meant. For the looks,” said Robert. His words were puzzles piece’s for Mom’s, just as lollipops have sticks.

Whenever Mom called a warning, Nanny Merla pushed us—one-two-three—inside the stalks, echo chambers of our shuffles and sniffles. Above the Faberge-egg centers of the rugs and mimicking their intricate patterns hung chandeliers, and sometimes we stared at them, especially during the day, when they reflected the sunlight into droplets of rainbow. In the library, rainbows played across the urns which were supposed to hold the ashes of ancestors from many centuries ago but only held our grandparents’ ashes from Kentucky and Florida, and Dad’s ashes from a cancer we had once been allowed to see but not touch on his neck. Our ancestors were death, staring at us, and we were death, sometimes peeking through the holes to stare at Mom and Robert.

“Look at the lovely wrist!” Mom said. “Puts me in mind of who? Now, this is legendary—who was in line at the bank when he saw a woman adjusting her glove over her wrist, and he said it was the most erotic thing he’d ever seen? Who was it he saw? Wasn’t it Hepburn?”

“Could be. With delicate wrists, she’d better not be a typist,” said Robert. “Little gal? Why don’t you speak?”

I want to speak. Which child?

“She will be a librarian, surely,” said Mom.

We grew hungry for sugar, for the girls we meant to be; we grew hungry minds. Old mind grown, our mom, late to childrearing, surprised at the fertility, terrified of the abundance, and set in her ways. Into her second wedding gown, piles of money had been stitched: something borrowed, something blue.

We stood behind the porcelain stalks at night while she spoke. We sat behind the porcelain stalks in the day while Ms. Merla, a retired badminton coach, gave us our lessons in axioms:

“Spare the rod, spoil the child. Three-times-three bad children is how many bad children? And how do those children multiply? We have created children simply by time-sing them. How is that? Because we say so? Are you creating something or making a formula? A formula cannot be created with nothing. Three minus three children is how many children? Where do the children go?”

As Ms. Merla gestured with chapped hands, we played silent clapping games, tapped intricate rhythms on our kneecaps with our fingers, braided and unbraided our hair. We stole toothpicks, and each day built parts of tiny villages behind the stalks—a cottage, a church, a wishing well—which we flattened and snatched before Ms. Merla finished lecturing and collected us again. From within the bright stalks, we stared at the cremation urns, tall and oriental with patterns of the universe, and sometimes wondered if we were looking out on death after all or if death were looking in on us.

“Worry is like a rocking chair,” said Ms. Merla. “It will give you something to do but won’t get you anywhere. Where is there to go? Rocking is soothing.”

Ms. Merla gave us the switch.

We slept in one king-sized bed, and there we looked at our parts. But who we meant to be changed the next night, and the next, and we couldn’t pick our favorites. Late at night, we gathered supplies, among them: a multi-purpose knife, sleeping bags, lanterns, browning apples and hardening peanut butter, a hatchet.

In the navy hour of morning, we crept out of the back entrance and into the garden. We snaked through the mist, and tugged at our itching-matching-scratching dresses. We pulled them off and chased each other with switches. Then we put on Dad’s old t-shirts, and walked very dignified for many miles across the fields, and then through the corn, until we came to a white forest, and we entered.

The trees were white, and the knotted holes in them were dark, and the pale skeletons littering the ground were white.

“Come into the trees,” two voices from the blackest knotholes called. “Come in and we will protect you.”

“No,” we said. We checked our parts.

The birds cawed with throats full of ice.

“Little girls, beware,” one tree whined. The tree’s white bark was the white of a dying planet, and deeply striated with grooves, maybe cuts. “Look at what will happen unless you come inside the trees.”

Some of the skeletons were not white. Some were mottled with sticky muscle. The ground was not visible.

“What do you see inside?” our youngest by two minutes asked.

“From in here, I can see only part of you,” growled the other tree. “Cover your face with a white cloth.”

We covered our faces with Dad’s shirts. They smelled like hospital lilac. Inside of Dad’s shirts, we did not peer through the armholes. We closed our eyes, and nestled, the way a lung is nestled whole.

“I see you much better now,” said the tree. “You could be dancers, perhaps. Can you dance?”

We didn’t reply.

The first tree said, “Maybe they will be librarians.”

A fellow traveler approached the trees from another part of the woods.

“Come into the trees,” the first tree told him, singing nasally. “We want to protect you.”

The boy looked around at the bones and didn’t even see us, but climbed right away into the largest knothole in the middle of the tree.

“Can you see us?” we shouted. “Hey, little guy! We’re out here! Are you okay?”

The boy didn’t answer first. Then he said, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t I see anything? I’m stuck.”

We called to him, “Show us your arm!”

“Ow, gawd!” And his scrawny arm was thrust from the knothole covered in cuts and welts.

“What a strong arm!” we cried, panicked. “You will be good for cutting firewood! Show us your legs! You will run further than all of us!”

The two grumbling trees began to crumble in bits of bark, dusting the skeletons as they rumbled. “He can’t run. Stop that.”

The boy’s arm pulled back inside, and when it came out, it was skinned, bloody and vein-laced, intricately woven, and the boy’s cries were patterns of chaos.

“We will keep the best of him and send the rest of him out to you!” the gruffish tree bellowed.

“Shut up, dumbass!” we cried wildly, bumping into each other. “Show us the ax!” we screamed, and our eldest pulled the hatchet from her bag and threw it against the tree, where it bounced off but landed nearby. The boy’s scrawny arm emerged to find it, and with a crack, the knothole splintered and grew larger as the boy chopped against the hole, splitting it further down the trunk. The tree shook and moaned while the boy chopped, but went quiet when the boy split the trunk to the ground and, howling, stepped from the inside.

We hopped through the skeletons in their tapestry scattering. We cut down the two violent trees until they were quiet stumps before we pulled the boy’s skin free and stitched it back on.

He walked with us further into the forest, fingering his stitches, until we found good trees and we all climbed inside the knotholes in their trunks. The flowers outside, framed in our black peepholes from the black insides of the trees, became more vibrant, casting yellow into the air as petals detached and blew into the black edge of our vision within the hollow holes. A bird flying by became only a wing and faded into the black edge of the portal from which we looked on. Every passing creature went away into the black, as every passing person had gone into the white within our porcelain stalks, and we climbed out of the knotholes to see the birds as they flew, the pollen-flecked air blowing stray leaves and petals, branches against the sun—everywhere alive and whole surrounding us.


Lydia Ship’s stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Short Fiction, Barrow Street, Denver Quarterly, New Delta Review (2012 Matt Clark Prize in Fiction Winner), Pleiades, The Portland Review, Sonora Review, and others. I am the new managing editor of The Chattahoochee Review.

Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

Scissors & Thorns
Kimberly Karalius

My brother died when he was twelve, alone and smothered by an endless curling of thorns. His name was Brody, tiny for his age, and the other kids picked on him because he smuggled comic books to school. He even read them at dinner when Grans served us carrot and lentil stew, rubbing soup spots off the pages with his thumb. “I want to be just him,” Brody had said, showing me his favorite hero adorned in silver armor. “I’m going to be a knight.”

“When you’re older,” I said, shaking my head. The soup that night tasted sour.

Brody had been fascinated by the tourist trap that made our town famous. While other places boasted of pincushion museums and industrial parks, we had what we called the Sleeping Princess Pavilion. Her name was lost to time, but everyone knew the legend: the princess cut her finger on the edge of an axe when she was sixteen, lingering too long by herself in the weapons pavilion just stone’s throw from the castle. Thorns sprouted like a nest of snakes, enveloping the once-grand pavilion into what looked like a knot of hair large enough to have belonged to a giant. This had been the working of a spell, though the clumsy fairy who cast it had forgotten to make the rest of the town fall asleep. The princess’s parents lived on and died, years passed, and the castle became our government building.

Brave men tried to break the spell on the princess, traveling by horse, train, and bicycle to take the chance to wake this beauty. No one had succeeded. True love was the key to making the thorns part like the sea – it was the ticket that allowed you safe entry into the pavilion. But if you weren’t her true love, just trying got you killed. And it wasn’t quick.

Death came through strangulation, starvation, or bleeding. The thorns, shaped like the maw of a great beast, sucked men inside. Their cries had filled the air with the melodic sounds of the crickets many a night, softer and softer until their breaths finally leave them.

I wondered if there really was a snoring princess to be found inside the walls of thorns, drool on her lip and her forehead covered in a cobweb veil. But in the end, you couldn’t help but believe. Real thorns didn’t slither and hiss.

Brody and I had walked past the pavilion almost every day; it was impossible to avoid, seeing how everything was built around it. I kept him on the outside and held his hand.

“She must be so tired of sleeping,” Brody had said, squinting through the thorns like he could see inside. “One day, I’m going to be the one who wakes her up.”

I remember squeezing his hand tightly then, catching my breath. “Don’t you dare try,” I said. “Only an idiot would try.”

“Trying to rescue someone isn’t idiotic.”

“It is when you can die.”

Brody frowned at me, disappointment filling his big brown eyes. “I’m not a coward like you, Ruth. I wouldn’t hesitate to help someone.”

The words had cut me, but I tried not to let him see it. I pulled on Brody’s hand, tugging him away from the thorny pavilion. It wasn’t about helping someone or not, I thought angrily. I just didn’t want my little brother to die for a myth. A spell as silvery cold as the moon’s light.

We spent the evening in sullen silence, sipping soup from our bowls while Grans chattered about her stitchery. Brody hid behind his comic books; I saw him read them as carefully as a manual, soaking up the knight’s sword-strokes, panting of the war horses, and the gentle sighs of the maidens sketched at the tops of towers.

“When you’re older,” I told him, tucking him into bed. The sheets were thick under my hands, patterned with castles and clouds. “When you’re older, you can try.”

Brody turned his cheek and whispered goodnight.

I remember feeling relieved that night, thinking that I wouldn’t have to worry about him for a few more years. The Sleeping Princess had been sixteen when she sliced her finger. Brody would have to be that old at least to have a chance. After all, this was about romance.

But I had been wrong. Maybe Brody just wanted to be a hero. He was too young to see princesses as breathing, blushing girls to give flowers to or kiss in hidden corners.

He just wanted to be a hero.

So he woke up in the middle of the night while Grans and I were asleep. He put on his plastic armor, grabbed his wooden sword, and tucked his favorite comic book under his arm. Brody approached the pavilion, I imagine, without fear. He plunged straight in – so deep that it only took ‘till morning for him bleed to death.

We found his armor, mangled like teeth had gotten to it, on the grass the next morning. The sword stuck out of the thorny clump like a grave marker. I guess the thorns let Brody keep his comic book for company. One day, when True Love arrives, perhaps we’ll find the yellowed pages with his bones.

Five years have passed since Brody’s death, but the sword still stands where the thorns hold it.

“There’s a man caught in the thorns,” the librarian says, stopping me in the middle of the path. She holds two non-fiction books in her arms like swaddled babies. Her smirk, along with the glint in her eye, is enough to tell me that she had already been to the pavilion that morning.

I shrug, even though my stomach rolls with the news. There hadn’t been someone stupid enough to try in a few months.

“He’s still alive,” she adds.

I thank her for the details and push past her, almost turning my ankle on the uneven sidewalk. My basket is weighed down by quilts, heavy like iron on my arm as I make my way to center of town. With five households to deliver to before noon, I know I have to move fast to meet that deadline.

After Brody’s death, Grans had started taking her sewing skills seriously. She turned our house into a sewing shop, taking orders for all kinds of clothing and crafts. I work with her, delivering, mostly, because I hadn’t inherited her talent. I can cut, though. Fabric, thread, paper. Grans gives me piles of patterns to cut up, claiming that her hands shake too much to cut straight. I’m happy to oblige, working at the sewing table while she laughs with her customers. The snip snip snip of the scissor relaxes me. When I’m working, I forget about Brody and the other unfortunate boys.

Walking past the library, I spot the pavilion and a crowd gathering around it. People are pointing and laughing at the dying man in the thorns. My cheeks burn with shame. I wish I didn’t have to see this.

“Let me out,” the man says. His voice is hoarse, but strong. He won’t die quickly.
The crowd laughs, pitiful sounds.

“If we could, we would,” someone says. “It’s impossible.”

Someone from the crowd steps forward to tell the poor man a sliver of our history. She raises her voice to that everyone can hear her; she drowns out the aching sobs that fill the man’s throat. Many men came alone to try and break the spell. But some weren’t as brave and took their friends, soldiers, and business partners with them to watch. As each man fell, grabbed by the ankles and ears by the hissing thorns, the other tried to help. Of course they did. They slammed axes into the thicket. Swords broke on the thorns – whether made of plastic or iron. Flames ricocheted. Plant-killer spray ended up poisoning those who breathed it.

The crowd settles as the woman finishes by saying, “Whoever wields a weapon at the thorns will, in the end, be swallowed too.”

Many a family member, seething with rage, had been lost this way. Grans had kept watch over me for two weeks, making sure I didn’t steal her knitting needles to attack the thorns with. I had been tempted.

“But there’s got to be a way,” the man says. “Please, I can’t die here.”

The crowd bubbles with laughter again. They disperse without a second glance, wishing him a swift death in pleasant tones.

I think of my brother again, how he must have yearned for company while he died, and I can’t turn away from this man. My feet take me closer. The thorns are sliding all over him, nicking his tanned skin. He looks to be in his twenties, like me, even though he’s partially obscured within the tangle of thorns. I can see the curve of his chapped lips, the freckles on his broad nose, and his hand, outstretched, almost breaking the surface of the thorny prison.

“Please,” he whispers, licking his lips.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“My name is Roan,” he says. His fingers twitch, as if he wants to reach for me, to keep me with him. “I was just passing through to get to the ocean. I heard that the herring on this side of the world gather in droves near the shoreline.”

Leaning closer, I notice that he’s wearing nylon suspenders. He smells of cypress and sweat. “Where are your fishing traps?”

“Somewhere in here, but I can’t see where. It hurts to turn my head.” Roan demonstrates by looking to his left and cuts open his cheek on a waiting thorn. His hair turns a darker shade of red where the blood pools.

I want to feel sorry for him. I’m almost there, because his voice sounds like the ebbing of waves and he’s trying not to cry. But then I have to ask the prickling question. “Why did you think you could save the princess?”

Roan blinks. “I don’t know anything about her.”

I start.

“I tripped over my traps,” he explained, turning red. “I wasn’t paying attention and caught my boot on the wire.”

There’s never been an accident. Any young men foolish enough to approach the pavilion have been well aware of the risk; out town is famous for the Sleeping Beauty, and the pavilion is practically a historical landmark. But anyone living in town stayed clear of it. The less attention we give it, the easier it is to forget. That’s why the mayor issued no guards, or fences, or even a sign to label it. The thorns continue to slither and hiss, hunger for the Wrong Men who think they are True Love, and we keep our heads down and forget the skeletons within.

I try to imagine how it had happened to Roan. It’s hard to picture because I can’t see all of him between the thorns, but I’m sure the fishing traps had caused the trouble. When he tripped over them, his feet tilted the wrong way. He had teetered right into the deadly arms of the pavilion. An innocent this time. Perhaps even more innocent than Brody.

Pushing the quilts aside, I rummage through the basket until I find an old chocolate bar. It’s slightly melted, collapsing between the pressures of my fingers, but I had kept it there in case I had ever gotten hungry while delivering. Grans would be pissed if she knew I mixed chocolate with the quilts, but I’m always careful to make sure my snacks are sealed.

“You can move your hand, right? Please take it,” I say. I tear the wrapper and place in his outstretched hand.

Roan swallows thickly as he stares at the chocolate bar. As he carefully reins his hands in, he narrowly avoids the thorns. The chocolate stains his lower lip, and I notice that he’s trying to eat it slowly. Like he knows it’s his last meal. “Thank you,” he says.

“I’ll bring you something more substantial for dinner.”

He sucks in his breath.

I’m being stupid, I know it. If anyone else had stuck around, had heard me make such a promise, they would have dragged me away. It’s futile, they’d say, shooting me worried looks. Don’t try to save something that’s meant to die.

“I can’t save you,” I tell him. “But I’ll keep bringing you food. Just, in return, tell me stories.”

His eyes widen. “About what?”

“You,” I say. “So I can remember who you are before you’re gone.”

Roan tells me that he grew up in a city with dirty streets and a skyline smothering with smog. He escaped by riding his bike to the ocean, where he wandered up and down the shoreline. At first, he dug up lost pails and children’s toys. Then he moved on to burying the dried husks of sea creatures in the sand dunes. He says that the water was always grey; he sat in the sand and let the waves rush over his thighs and soak his shirt. Roan went home with gritty jeans and sand between his teeth.

“I dropped out of college and decided to become a fisherman. But not in that water. Only boots and soda cans got caught in the nets,” he says.

As he talks, I feed him. Energy bars for breakfast, halves of sandwiches for lunch. I slip him slices of apple, greasy potato chips, sticky raisins. And a lot of water. I hadn’t been sure what Grans would think of me helping Roan, so I tried to be careful about sneaking the extra food out. I saved scraps from our meals to give to him, wrapping pieces of bread, bits of meat, and cold vegetables in my napkins. Doing this had reminded me of when Brody and I briefly had a pet; we fed a stray white cat for about three weeks like I was doing with the napkins, until Grans found out and scared the cat away with her broom.

Despite my efforts to feed Roan, the thorns seem to be catching on. Each day I arrive at the pavilion, I notice that Roan has sunken a little deeper into the thicket. Like quicksand. If he’s noticed, Roan hasn’t mentioned it.

“One more bite,” I say, balancing the last piece of ham sandwich on my fingers. I stand on my toes so that I can slip my hand in gap in the thorns.

Today, Roan’s hands are tied down by the thorns as they swirl around his wrists like snakes. They cut his skin when he leans forward to snatch the bit of sandwich with his mouth. His paper-dry lips brush my skin.

I blush at the contact and wonder why his touch matters so much. Despite feeding him, he’s losing blood at a steady rate and he hasn’t been able to move much for about two weeks. Roan’s life is leaving him, drop by drop, as the blood pools at his feet. I imagine the skeletons buried in the thicket. Their unhinged jaws letting loose endless cries. Roan will become one of them and I can’t do anything about it.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

I shake my head.

Roan sighs, a weak little puff of air, and the way he looks at me makes me think he’s been waiting to say something to me, these words that will come from his mouth. “It’s only a matter of time, isn’t it? This is my grave.”

I want to deny it. I wish I could.

“You’ve been kind to me and you’re so brave, watching me like this. But it must be hurting you terribly. If you stop coming, I think it may be better for the both of us. It’ll be faster this way.”

Flinching at his words, I reach my hand in to touch the bridge of his nose, thick with sweat and grime. It’s the only part of him I can touch without tipping into the thorns myself. I feel his nose bump against mine and then the flutter of his eyelashes against my fingers.

“Go,” Roan says, voice shaking. “Just go.”

I run home with trembling legs. The grass underfoot makes a squelching sound and the sky burns with midday light. I walk through the playground, getting woodchips caught in my shoes, and the laughter of the children on the swings sounds unreal. I want to ask them why they are laughing, mouths open with baby teeth and candy-dyed tongues.

How can they smile and giggle and play when Roan is dying?

It has been a while since anyone has openly complained about the pavilion. There used to be weekly meetings at the pub were outraged people gathered and hashed their feelings out over beer, salsa, and hot pretzels. I had gone to some of the meetings after Brody died, dipping chips in the spicy salsa and nodding vigorously when someone talked about how unfair all these deaths were, how the boys were innocent and underserving, and that the Princess’s curse was a curse on the town as well. The more cynical members believed that True Love couldn’t exist in such a state. Most of the time, I concentrated on the salsa and nodded. As I dunked my chips, I had thought, time and again, how the salsa reminded me of blood: the same color of the Princess’s kissable lips, dyed that way from the deaths surrounding her.

As I pick woodchips out of my shoes, three little girls with braided hair climb the stairs to the slide. They sing a haunting song, one that I remember learning when I was a girl. Brody used to sing it whenever we talked about the Sleeping Princess, his voice cracking on the words:

Sleeping Princess, will you wake
If I hold my sword high,
If I purse my lips?

Have you caught a fly in your mouth
While dreaming the days away?
How long your nails must be, how sprawling your hair
Like a cape of tangles

Shall we measure your years by the length your hair?
No grey will we find, even with a scissor’s blade,
Always beauty, always grace
Surrounded by weapons and thorns that race
Through your sleeping place,
Keeping you safe.

Oh princess, will you ever wake?

The girls finish with a fit of giggles, sliding down the metal ramp one after the other and tumbling into the woodchips. I watch them with unsteady eyes, thinking about the song. “Do you think,” I blurt, “do you think that the Princess’s hair is really that long?”

They stop to look at me. One girl grins wide enough to show off her missing baby teeth. “Of course,” she says, “It must be out of control!”

Out of control. Just the thought of all that hair tangled and knotted like weeds makes something inside me shiver with recognition. Where would all that hair go after tumbling down her shoulders, over her ankles, out the door of the pavilion? Her hair could have been part of the spell.

Her hair could be the thorns.

Grans has a drawer full of scissors. As soon as I get home, I head straight to her sewing table and sift through the drawer. The scissors come in various colors, some with handles made of transparent plastic and others with blades dull enough for children to use. Most of them can’t cut anything except thread, or maybe paper if you don’t mind the blade losing its edge. The chances of any of these scissors cutting hair – or thorns – are slim.

I find a rather large scissor in the back of the drawer; the blades are sticky, probably from glue, but it looks like a powerful one. If its blades were muscles, this scissor would be the strongman.

My feet can’t carry me fast enough to the pavilion. The sky turns grey and thick with humidity, as if the clouds have all gathered to watch with big frowns etched into their fluff. I bump into a teacher, his arms full of handwritten essays, and he yells at me. When I raise the scissor, he backs off. I feel like Brody must have, wielding a weapon. There’s power in that.

The pavilion is swarming with thorns when I get there, the tendrils slithering against each other like an angry nest of snakes. I can see my brother’s sword still stuck at the top like a hairpin, though it shivers with the constant movement of the thorns. It’s like a forest, I think, as I approach. The scissor is cold and clumsy in my hand.

“Ruth, is that you?” Roan says, his voice muffled from somewhere inside.

I rush to the edge where I had been meeting him for the past two weeks, but I can’t see Roan at all. There’s a wall of thorns where he used to be. “Are you okay?” I ask.

“It’s getting worse.”

“What does that mean?”

Roan’s voice is hollow. “Don’t stay here. Please. Just let it be quick for both of us.”

I want to show him my weapon to prove to him that what I’m about to do will take the hollow right out of his voice, but he can’t see me either. It’s nerve-wracking. I don’t know how much more he’s bled. Townspeople start to gather around me. I hear their breathing and a steady murmur as they watch for my next move. I wonder if the librarian is there, with her hungry smile, waiting to see me swallowed up like the previous young men, like the grieving family members. Thankfully, no one tries to stop me.

“Hang on,” I tell him. “I’ll be right there to get you.”

Before he can respond, I raise the scissor and open the blades as wide as they will go, choosing the thread of thorns slithering right in front of my nose. The thorns twist between the blades, as if goading me to make the first snip.

My heart thumps as I squeeze the handle. These are not hair clippers. These blades are only meant to slice through fabric. But wishful thinking, perhaps, makes them capable in my shaking hands. “Stay still, Princess,” I whisper. “I’m going to give you a trim.”

When I cut through the first piece of thorny bramble, it sounds like bones splitting. The townspeople shudder and clap their hands to their ears as a screech erupts. Sounds like a radio dashed to pieces. The other thorns dance away from my scissors, but I step forward and snip wherever I can. With each cut, the scissors transform; the handle becomes quartz, the blades are dangerously saw-toothed.

As the thorns fall, they turn into pieces of honey-blond hair.

The path I make into the thicket is messy, with jagged twists surrounded by thorns that try to break my skin as I pass through. My shoes are covered in hair and I try not to slip on it. Another snip and I can see Roan’s blue eyes through the thick wall of thorns concealing him.

“Are you really there?” he whispers.

I nod and smile.

This time, the thorns put up a fight as I attempt to free Roan. They nip at my calves as I cut tiny holes in the wall. Blood trickles down my legs. My socks are stained red. Roan’s fingers dig through the holes I made and he pulls at them, making them wider as his hands leak blood. I stumble on something. When I look down, it’s a ribcage. I suck in my breath. I had forgotten about the bones. The ribcage is too big to have been Brody’s.

“Just one more tug,” Roan says.

I angle the scissor so that it’s facing the ground, a mouthful of thorns in its mouth, and Roan and I move at the same time. Snip Snip Tug. The walls come down that separates us. Hair floats in the air like seed spores.

“That’s it,” I say, brushing strands of hair out of my eyes. “We did it.”

Suddenly I feel Roan’s arms around me. I smell the lingering saltiness of the sea on his skin. My hands are snug between us, the scissor closed and pressed against Roan’s heart. He kisses my cheek, then my lips. I taste blood, but it’s not as strong a sensation as the gentleness of his mouth.

We pull back and the scissor catches the weak light streaming through the clouds. It seems to glow and is warm in my hands.

“Follow the path back out,” I say. “I’m sure that once they see you, you’ll get some help.” I know he needs it; Roan’s skin seems to be covered in nicks and cuts, even deep gashes that have left river-marks of blood down the side of his face on his right arm. He’s terribly thin, even though I had been feeding him. I don’t know how long he’ll last if he keeps standing here with me.
But Roan seems to know that I won’t be following him out. He squeezes my hand. “You’re going to keep going, aren’t you?”

Just over his shoulder, I can see the wall of the pavilion. Maybe I’m even close enough to grab Brody’s sword. “I’m still alive,” I say, smiling. “It’s as good a reason as any to find out the truth about the Sleeping Princess.”

Roan nods. His eyes beg a promise from me, that he’ll be expecting me outside the thorns.

“I want to see that ocean,” I say, managing a grin. I lift my scissors in a salute and wait until I’m sure he’s on the right path back before turning my attention back to the thorns. The answering smile he gave me warms my cheeks.

A mess of curling thorns hisses and spits at me, a last defense right outside the pavilion walls. I wonder how dusty and rusted the weapons inside are and if the princess is sleeping on a bed or the cold ground. “Let’s see what kind of princess is here,” I whisper. “Let’s see who she is, this killer of young men, or if she’s a princess at all.”


Kimberly Karalius is an MFA student at the University of South Florida. Her work has been published in journals such as The Medulla Review, Cygnus, Hogglepot, and Pure Francis. Even though she’s old enough to be considered an adult, she still watches cartoons.

Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

Kindred Spirits
Carla Sarett

Ghostly legends have haunted the Catskill Mountains since the early Dutch settlers—and there was no better place to find them than Dusty Rand’s Kindred Spirits, a quaint sort of bookstore, housed in a Victorian on a narrow side street. There, beside rare books and tinted engravings, one could discover maps of the old villages, postcards written in war and peace, diaries, recipes, even love letters.

No one knew how Dusty happened upon his exotic stash, but then again, no one knew much about Dusty Rand. In truth, most of his merchandise had little conventional value. It appealed to history buffs or artists and writers in search of that elusive “local color” and a dash of romance. Perhaps because of that, the travel guides praised Kindred Spirits as a “must-see” for tourists.

Especially in late August, when days got rainy, Kindred Spirits was crowded with vacationers needing to “kill time” before drinks or dinner. Anyone was welcome to lounge for hours in one of Dusty’s soft cushioned armchairs and sift through his piles of antique postcards.

On one such soggy afternoon—a thick white rain had poured for days—a vaguely bohemian woman lingered until closing time. She wore the air of Manhattan, with long skirt, denim jacket, and lacy scarf—and she had the impatience of a city person as well.

Dusty had an old-fashioned courtly manner. “The rain’s let up now. I don’t mean to rush you if you’re waiting for someone, but…”

“I’m not waiting for anyone, that is, except you,” she let him know as if he were a friend. “My name’s Elizabeth Fairwell. I’m never Lizzie, by the way, in case you were wondering.”

He continued to neaten up, returning each waylaid book and postcard to its rightful place. “You’re an artist?” he asked. It was an easy guess since the area was a mecca for landscape painters.

“Yes, but it’s not going so well, to be honest. I quit my job in advertising and decided to spend a week here alone to get ideas. Now, I need inspiration, what can I say.” She pushed her hair back from her face. Her dark eyes were restless, as if expecting a surprise at any moment.

“You have the entire Catskill Mountains to inspire you and you end up at a bookstore,” he joked. “But you’re not the first—artist, that is, to come here.”

“Exactly,” she said. “Isn’t that why you named the store Kindred Spirits? The painting has a poet, not just an artist in it—William Cullen Bryant with Thomas Cole. And the painting’s based on a poem. But Kaaterskill Falls is disappointing, I think. I was there yesterday.”

“The painting mixes vantage points,” Dusty said. “Maybe that’s the way the artist remembered it. The mountains have a way of playing tricks like that.”

Elizabeth nodded. “I’ve heard that you have special things here, things you show by appointment? I know this isn’t an appointment, but…” She smiled at him—a smile of mischief—and waited for his concession.

“Well, Elizabeth who isn’t Lizzie, now we do have an appointment.” And he led her by both hands into another smaller room, pulling her along as it were.

He climbed a frail ladder while she steadied him. “You don’t need to do that,” he said, but she ignored him and held on tightly. He removed an oak box from the topmost shelf and once down, handed it to her.

Inside the box was a sketchbook marked with the initial LV, in a curving script. The sketches were tinted—twisted roads and stairways, blue and grey, with cobblers, and sawmills, and seamstresses and children eating pies, and a town by a narrow canal; another of an underground city, black tunnels and waterways with miniature boats.

Dusty traced the path of one of the painted roads in the air with his index finger—his motion was graceful. “The cities were of Leopold Vale’s invention,” Dusty said. “I’d date these about the same period as the other Hudson River painters, although I haven’t been able to learn much more than that.”

Elizabeth said, “How could such a great artist stay unknown?”

“History’s filled with battles you never heard of, churches that got destroyed—much less people,” Dusty replied. “Some artists get remembered, some don’t.”

“I want all of them, anything he ever did. I am not rich, but I’m not poor, either, just to be clear.”

Dusty was accustomed to wealthy clients who ate up estates and anything else they could find—and beautiful Elizabeth seemed spoiled enough to get her way. Still, he suspected that her talk of money was a bluff. “I hadn’t planned to sell it yet—the work’s not authenticated. That could take years.”

“I hadn’t planned to find it either, but here we are,” she insisted.

“You didn’t find it—I did,” he reminded her, not unkindly though.

She laughed at her own arrogance. “Yes, that’s true, but I need these. You understand, don’t you? I can’t leave them behind, not now. The price is up to you. ”

“This could be a forgery,” he went on. “Someone could have invented Leopold Vale. Nineteenth-century fakes are fairly common, and I’ve seen it done even with Asher Durand or Thomas Cole, much less an unknown artist like this.”

Elizabeth squared her shoulders. “It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” she said. Then she looked into his mild light eyes as if daring him to disappoint her.

“Then it’s a gift. It’s yours,” he said.

“If you want to give it away, I won’t stop you.” In minutes, she left with the sketchbook. She dashed to her car, fearful he might change his mind. But Dusty Rand did not seem fickle, and later, she felt no reason to worry.

The next day, Elizabeth visited “Artist’s Rock,” which lies along the rim trail that overlooks the Hudson River. The light was silvery from white slender birches and the rocks were carpeted with deep thick moss, velvety and moist. Only shafts of afternoon sunlight penetrated through the leaves—and the rain had cooled the air.

She perched herself on a large boulder, as Leopold Vale might have and tried to imagine his vision. Under the green mountains lay the graves of whalers, miners, loggers, tannery workers, and farmers, even railway workers. Now, the mountains were reduced to a sadly tamed wilderness.

And at that moment, she saw—squeezed between two narrow rocks—another sketchbook, labeled The Lost Cities of LV. Its pages showed streets that went in circles and led to other streets where children played and others were lonely, houses lit by candles and houses lit by chandeliers, and bakeries that stayed open all night in case a hungry beggar passed by.

Out of nowhere, or so it seemed, Dusty appeared. His steps were so light than he left branches undisturbed. “I see you found it,” he mumbled as if apologizing. “I must have left it behind.”

‘If you say so,” she said, skeptical. Dusty Rand hardly seemed the type to lose books, especially one so precious as this.

Their pace matched as they climbed the long rocky trail. After a long silence, Elizabeth said, “I guess I owe you. I don’t think I can accept another gift.” She hadn’t spoken that day and her voice cracked. Still, she took it for granted that the sketchbook was already hers.

He gently placed his hand on her wrist, as though it might shatter. “Let’s call it a loan then. You’ll return it when you’re ready.”

“But how will I know when I’m ready?” she asked.

“That’s up to you, Elizabeth,” he said, facing her. Then other hikers passed by—and the trail was filled with talk and jokes and even litter.

Over the next months, Elizabeth searched for the real Leopold Vale but the trail ran dry, and quickly. There was no proof that a Leopold Vale had ever existed.

Leopold’s sketches suggested proof of another kind. With eyes shut, she saw winding secret roads, cities bathed in blue twilight or gray mist. And she began, object by object, street by street, to recreate Leopold’s world. Her early efforts were a disaster of uncertain lines and garish colors, but she persisted. She worked late, she rose early—her friends fell away, but she paid no attention. Once in a blue moon, she wrote Dusty Rand about her progress. He replied on an antique postcard, never signed love, only D.

Eventually there were paintings based on the single city of the twisted roads. One showed a window with a spinning wheel—another, a narrow stairwell leading into a court infused with coppery light. On impulse, Elizabeth spotted an out of the way, smallish gallery that had recently opened—and introduced herself to its sharp-tongued young owner, Nina Silverstein.

Lively Nina had the eye, as she put it, and she was eager to make a name for herself. “Well, you are a real painter,” she said.

“Please understand, the images belong to Leopold Vale, That’s why I call them Leopold’s Cities. I’m not original. That’s not my intention. In fact, it’s the opposite of my intention,” Elizabeth insisted in her deliberate manner.

“Let’s let old Leopold Vale take care of himself—those old guys always do. We can call your paintings Elizabeth’s Cities, and no one will mind, really,” said Nina, amused.

“One man might. He gave me the journals of Leopold Vale as a gift—just because I loved them.” Elizabeth avoided mentioning the name Kindred Spirits since her own ambition was no smaller than Nina’s. Elizabeth Fairwell hardly needed to play second fiddle to a tourist attraction.

Nina said, “We’ll put that story in the catalogue, it’s a charming detail. Leopold’s Cities, they’ll remain then.”

By any standard, Elizabeth’s first exhibition was a success. By the second day, not one painting was unsold. It was rare for a new artist, and an unknown at that, to sell out this way.
“Old Leopold’s worked his magic,” Nina said, pleased as punch.

“Not according to the critics,” said Elizabeth, gloomily. Reviews had been mixed. Some had labeled her work as hopelessly retrograde and few had taken it seriously. She had expected more.
“Silly, don’t pay attention to reviews,” Nina laughed. “There’ll be other shows. And when you’re famous everyone will come around. That’s the way it works.”

By the second show, the New York critics, having heard of Elizabeth’s robust sales, described her paintings as “luminous” and “important.” Again, the paintings sold out by the second day. Success felt like a drug to Elizabeth Fairwell and she felt ready to return Dusty Rand’s favor.

Armed with Leopold’s sketchbooks, Elizabeth drove to the Northern Catskills. It was autumn and the mountains were fiery red. But on Artist’s Walk, she knew, birches were silvery, the rocks moss-covered—and Kaaterskill Falls hid in the mountains. And she entered Kindred Spirits again. It had been years, but the years, in her mind, had brought her closer to Dusty Rand.

“Elizabeth who isn’t Lizzie,” Dusty said, as if no man had ever seen a woman.

She had prepared a little speech—it was to be witty as well as grateful. As a formality, she would offer to return Leopold’s sketchbooks, and she had anticipated Dusty’s chivalrous refusal. But before she said a word, she noticed what hung on the walls. For there were Elizabeth’s paintings—a deep blue canal with no one beside it, only a slither of pale moon above—the entire heartbroken world beyond its limits, battlefields and cemeteries and hospitals.

She forgot where she stood—so tangled were her feelings. Yes, she had longed for Dusty to admire her work and she had even hoped for more. But equally, she had wanted worldly success, a genuine reputation, not this sickly imitation. She turned away, crying.

“I know it’s a compliment but I’d thought I’d sold the work. Nina probably knew all along.”

Dusty held her shoulders and allowed her to cry. “I’m sorry that you’re disappointed. I thought you’d be pleased. They were a kind of insurance policy.”

“You didn’t need insurance. You knew I’d be here,” she said, only half in anger.

“I hoped so, Elizabeth,” he answered. “But now the paintings are yours again.”

The two of them walked to the ruins of the old Mountain House, which once looked onto the face of Kaaterskill Clove. That night, Elizabeth stayed with Dusty; and autumn turned into winter and winter into spring. “It must be the mountains, but the work’s easy now,” Elizabeth wrote Nina. “I wake up, and it’s all there.”

Elizabeth and Dusty might have enjoyed a happy life together. Dusty was at home in the secret cloves of the Catskills and Elizabeth felt at home anywhere. But months later, Dusty Rand was found dead in his sleep: a congenital defect, the doctors said. And after that, Elizabeth felt the loneliness of the mountains—they were nothing to her without Dusty, or so she claimed.

Nina Silverstein handled the sale of Elizabeth’s work, and the rest of the objects in Kindred Spirits were to be sold in lots. To Nina’s consternation, she spotted the sketchbooks of Leopold Vale on a jumbled heap along with the antique postcards and love letters.

“These don’t belong here,” Nina said.

Elizabeth explained, “They do. I always had suspicions—and apart from these sketches, there’s no proof of a Leopold Vale. It would be just like Dusty to spin something from thin air, like a trickster. If Dusty had lived longer, I would have confronted him.”

Nina slowly collected Leopold’s sketchbooks from the floor, one by one. “Of course Dusty had the talent to invent Leopold Vale.”

“So you agree,” said Elizabeth.

“No, I don’t, not at all. Even if he had, it would be harmless caper. But this is different, Elizabeth. You shouldn’t sell a gift—not one like this, not one that you can’t replace.”
“Then you take them,” Elizabeth said. “I can’t waste my time with Leopold anymore—it was a game. The world’s filled with them.”

Nina replied with an air of grim recognition, “You’ve enjoyed your success and so have I. But sometimes a step forward is just downhill.”

In New York, Elizabeth dabbled in different styles—abstract, impressionist, post-modern, and so on—but her results were as hollow as furniture reproductions. Worse yet, when viewed in light of the new work, her early paintings lost their allure—they, too, appeared artificial and mannered. Her reputation faded swiftly as reputations do. Rumors floated that Dusty Rand himself had painted Elizabeth’s early works—little else could explain the dismal failure of the later ones. Elizabeth remained stubbornly silent.

“It’s a common story,” Nina Silverstein said when asked about her once-famous client. “Fairwell had great promise, and then, who knows? There’s been no new painting for years and for some reason, she lives up in the Catskills, doing God knows what, she won’t let anyone see. She’s a hermit.”

Nina’s gallery had become a fixture in Manhattan’s art world, with a large stable of successful painters. But not one, in her mind, had the genius of a young Elizabeth Fairwell. None would be remembered in the long run.

Nina did offer to return Leopold Vale’s sketchbooks—it was but a few hours to reach the Catskills. But Elizabeth replied, opaquely, that she no longer required them. “I know that Leopold Vale is real,” she wrote. “I never should have doubted it.”

With effort, Nina pushed Elizabeth to the periphery of her thoughts—that is, until she learned of Elizabeth Fairwell’s death at the age of forty. In the will, Nina was named beneficiary of the paintings of “Leopold Vale.” She also was given a letter from Elizabeth.

My Dearest Nina,

I found Leopold Vale’s paintings and now they belong to you. Oh, they are marvelous—with bridges and moon-lit canals and ponds with white swans! I stumbled upon them, by accident—how is not important. All that matters is that Leopold’s paintings are real, as real as the memory of Kaaterskill Falls.

Yes, Dusty might have created Leopold—he had the talent and the imagination. And such a fiction might have suited him. But that is not the truth. Leopold Vale’s work came to him—as I came to you, as one kindred spirit finds another.

Yours,
Elizabeth Fairwell

Even in grief, Nina felt new purpose and energy. At last, she thought, Leopold Vale would find his rightful place in the museums, perhaps as a branch of the great Hudson River tradition—and Nina would be the person to introduce him to a new century.

But when Nina examined the paintings, she became confused, even lost. True, all had the signature LV and some offered the patina of age, with telltale cracks. And the images recalled Leopold’s sketches in minute detail. But for all that, they looked exactly like Elizabeth’s, with a haunted and sorrowful light that was Elizabeth’s alone. Beneath the glowing surfaces of the canvases lay pale vestiges of other images, like memories. Where Leopold’s world ended and Elizabeth’s began was impossible to say, at least with the clarity that the world demanded.

It would take years to sort out. Even then, there would be questions unanswered, motives unknown. By that time, the two painters would become yet another secret of the mountains that are without boundary and forever haunted.


Within the past year, Carla Sarett’s short stories have appeared in The Linnet’s Wing, Subtle Fiction, Eric’s Hysterics, Scissors and Spackle, The Greensilk Journal, Ear Hustler, Absinthe Revival, The River Poet’s Journal, Loch Raven Review, Danse Macabre and The Medulla Review, among others. Carla is a Ph.D. whose careers include academia, TV, film and market research.

Issue No. 2, Autumn 2012

How I Learned to Love a Blind Man
Amarie Fox

Children again at Delphi, the location of the earth mother’s shrine before Apollo came along and killed the python. Blind old Caleb and I sat near the omphalos — the navel of the world — anxious as unborn babies, waiting for something to happen. Looking out over the blue mountains, suspended in a mist, like waves stricken still by a spell, I half expected the earth to shake and swallow us back into its womb. With my heel, I dug pentagrams into the dirt and all of those star eyes looked up at heaven, while Caleb’s eyes rolled uselessly around in his head, unseeing, but beautiful, like a prophet of doom.

Occasionally, children would taunt him in the street, yell after him, call him the most hideous names. Only on rare occasions did he turn around or say anything back. I never understood how he could shrug off such insults and continue to tap his white cane along the pavement and laugh under his breath at their foolishness. I suppose he’d lived long enough not to be bothered by such small things, while I was still too young and sensitive. Naïvely, I wished to shield him from whatever evil there was in the world, the evil that he could not see.
His blindness lent him a strength of will, though. There was something more powerful in sensation that the seeing did not recognize. So much of the world was light and color. There was an eroticism or pornographic thrill to the visual nature of life. I never made the connection until we first made love and he could not see me. Could not see my small little pear breasts or the bloom of hair between my legs. Nothing, I was nothing, but blackness until he pressed his hands over my body and caressed every part of flesh that covered me. On my back, naked and sprawled out, I stared at the ceiling while he labored away as a sculptor would, sometimes even working over the same area twice. It went on for what seemed like eternity and as pleasurable as it was, I could not help but feel impatient. How easily one wants to slip into one’s old ways and bad habits. All of my ex-lovers had undressed me quickly, sometimes violently, greedy to see everything, all the parts that excited them, that they had seen a million times before in magazines and on screen. I had become accustomed to it, took advantage of it. It was all due to the hindrance of vision. Living in darkness there is no such thing as immediate pleasure. In that way, blindness was a gift, had a certain element of anticipation to it that the seeing had long since forgotten about.

‘I don’t feel any closer to anything.’ Caleb arched his back and a soft cracking sound interrupted the silence.
‘Somehow I knew you would say that.’
‘It sounds beautiful.’ I was not just Caleb’s window to the world, I was not just what people accused me of being: his dumb young guide dog. Oh that girl, she is young enough to be his daughter. No, for what no one else understood was that he laid closer to my thoughts than anyone else ever had. How much one could learn from simply listening to another, from seeing how their mind operated. Caleb did not fall in love with an image of a woman, he fell in love with the mind of a woman and that was a difference that was as foreign and astounding as anything. From time to time, I would describe something and stop short, begin to edit and censor myself, fearful of revealing some unconscious element of my personality that would cause Caleb to fall out of love with me. As soon as I would begin to stutter or hold my rambling tongue back, Caleb would grab my forearm and press it gently, as if saying go on, you’re doing fine. ‘I don’t think I deserve you as my pair of eyes.’

With my head on his shoulder, I pretended to be blind. The blue misty mountains and the stone circle disappeared. If I had possessed such a strength of will, I would have scooped out my eyes, washed them clean, and left two black wishing wells behind, all for him. The idea of surrendering a part of oneself for another was not so strange. People did it all of the time. I was just another woman in love, no different than the rest.
All I wanted was to be his equal, live as prophet and prophetess forever. We’d see all that was coming before it came. Children would toss stones, aiming at the small bloodied and blackened holes below our foreheads, but we’d only smile and move on. There would never be any anger or resentment inside of us, for what a sense of calm and composure there was in knowledge, of knowing what others would never know, of knowing what others could never possibly know.
None of it could ever be and as I opened my eyes, squinting into the brightness, I knew that. Like a coward, I never wanted the mirrors to break in my eyes, because Caleb would have no use for me any longer. A blind man surely did not require a girl with no eyes when he had no vision himself.


Amarie Fox is currently earning her BA in English Literature. She does not have many accolades or accomplishments to mention, because for the most part she spends far too much time painting watercolor portraits of strangers, caring for her four cats, and tendering to a rather pathetic looking flower garden.