Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Mermaid-Like Awhile They Bore Her Up (Self-Portrait in Water)
Mermaid-Like (Self-Portrait in Water)
Stella Rothe

The Youngest Daughter
Stella Rothe

Land and sea, weakness and decline are great separators, but death is the great divorcer forever.
~ John Keats

I.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom forgotten by history – a kingdom so peaceful that no one cared to report its histories – there lived a widowed king and his three daughters: Catherine, Marie, and Veronique.

The king, who was very wealthy but very bored, had little to do but appease his daughters. He gave them fine clothing, beautiful rooms, doting maids, shelves filled with big old tomes about Arthurian legends and history and daring novels.

The one rule that the king set, and that each girl obeyed, was that the wild, gray ocean-shore a few miles away never be swum in, looked at, or sailed upon. The king’s wife, as lovely a creature as ever there was, had drowned soon after Veronique’s birth, in a terrible shipwreck off the coast.

Since that day, the king had not looked at the sea again, and if anyone even mentioned it he would cease speaking for several sorrowful days.

As the girls approached adulthood, their wealthy and impractical father gave them wonderful news. At age 16, he said, each girl could have one thing – anything, any wish that they desired – to celebrate their maturity.

Catherine was first, and with a toss of her sun-drenched ringlets, she requested a golden carriage with six gray stallions, a handsome driver, and the finest harnesses in the kingdom.

Two years later, the king asked Marie what she wanted for her birthday. After a bit of deep thinking and blushing, she requested her mother’s wedding dress and crown – and, as soon as she received those sacred items, Catherine regretted her beloved carriage with its dashing driver and six proud horses.

Several years went by before it was Veronique’s turn, and the king was beginning to feel old age settling in. Without his wife the years had seen him grow increasingly lonely. His daughters became the axis on which his world turned. Catherine had her mother’s lips and hair; Marie had her rosy cheeks and pointed nose; Veronique had her beautiful, wide gray eyes. And it was Veronique who, unlike the other sisters, had pondered her gift for many years, wondering exactly how she was going to tell her father, and thinking out all the many ways she could say it.

In the end, though, she simply said, “I wish to go to the sea,” and there was nothing her father could do: he had made a promise, anything, anything at all … and Veronique’s wish was to visit the sea, the wide and glorious sea she had read so much about in books.

With a deep sigh and heavy eyes, the king nodded and watched as his youngest daughter ran the direction to the shore, her long black hair floating behind her like a veil. He went to his rooms and drank, hoping to sleep away his worry and wake up with his daughter home and safe. He soon fell into a dreamless slumber.

II.

Veronique had never seen a body of water larger than a pond or large fountain. For all the luxuries she had been given, travel was not one of them. She had, in fact, rarely ventured out of the castle walls: and while those were wide, huge walls that stretched for miles, sometimes it could feel rather like a prison.

Veronique had read poems of the sea, fairy tales, and plays such as The Tempest – all of which enthralled her and awoke in her the desire to see water. She had read about mermaids and wanted to know if they existed. She had read about coral reefs and longed to wade about one. She had seen sketches of wild waves and sinking boats and felt drawn by the power of the ocean.

It took several hours, but Veronique was drawn by the sudden stillness in the air, interrupted only by a gentle lapping sound: the sound of waves pulling back, and then rushing forward ever so gently against the sand.

When she arrived at the shore, her intention was to look, sit for a time, and then return to her father. Perhaps she would be allowed to return, even. She took a seat on a rock, dipping her toes into the icy water, and in a matter of minutes she was no longer human: she belonged to the sea, she knew this with her whole heart – everything within her belonged to the water, and she never wanted to be anywhere else. The sea can do that to young girls with romantic imaginations; it can also do that to old men who long to fish or sail, or to young men with a fancy of being a pirate or navy soldier. The sea can pull, and draw, and call until it has you in its arms … and by the time you’re in them, there is little hope for returning.

Hours went by. Hours of sitting beneath a mild sun, with the water rushing against Veronique’s feet, calves, and thighs. Gulls soared above her, ships bobbed gently in the distance, and tiny fish caused little bubbles to burst at the shore’s edge.

It was not enough. Veronique needed to be inside the water, held by it, protected by it. She knew nothing of swimming, or that one must learn to swim, so imagine her surprise when she splashed into the water and came up with a noseful of water and a mouthful of salt! She coughed, sputtered, gasped for air – and then tried again. Let us not be so fanciful as to say she learned to swim that day: she did not. But, each day she woke very early, crept out of the castle, and returned to the sea, testing her limits a little more each time, until at last she had learned to float, and even to swim a bit.

The king knew nothing of these exploits. He had been so relieved when his youngest had returned home that first day, he could scarce contain his tears. If he had known that she was sneaking to the water almost every day, he might have locked the castle walls or given her a lecture. Catherine noticed the smell of salt on her sister’s skin, and Marie saw how those long black locks were turning dull and dry from the water. Neither sister said a word. They protected the secret and each, in their own gentle way, was envious of it.

Spring turned into summer, and summer left sun-bruises on Veronique’s shoulders and legs, and her skin was dry and cracked from the salt of the sea. She did not mind, and the king did not notice.
Now, none of this should have been particularly dangerous. Veronique had learned to swim, she knew not to go out on foggy or stormy days, and she never went out farther than the water was safe. It was the siren’s song that did it – that dangerous music that no mortal can resist.

III.

“I want to be a mermaid,” Veronique whispered to the pretty women clustered around her rock, early one autumn morning. “I want to be a mermaid like you.”

These mermaids were a particular kind of mermaid: kind, soft, naïve. They listened to Veronique’s woes and desires, and they told her of life beneath the waves – how they could see the underside of boats, and they all had pet fish, and their hair never became dull from the salt. Everything was softer beneath the waves, they said, and everything was prettier.

The fact that Veronique found them at all was a feat in itself – she had the innocent, open heart of a child yet, despite her blooming adulthood, and when one has the mindset that anything is possible, quite frequently it is. And so she had met the mermaids. And, rather quickly, she decided she wanted to be one.

“What must I do?” she asked one evening. “I’m desperate. I’ll do anything.”

And so, the doubtful but helpful mermaids swam to the depths of the ocean to ask the Sea Crone for advice. This was a woman who had helped Circe, who had drawn many a sailor to a painful death – who had, in fact, summoned the waves that had killed Veronique’s mother. But Veronique knew nothing of that. She only knew that, if legend proved true, she would have to offer up a part of herself as payment, and then leave her life on shore behind forever.

The trouble was, no one had ever come to the Sea Crone asking to be a mermaid before. She had met with plenty of mermaids who desired to be human, but never had she seen a case such as this. And, with her calculating mind, she decided that this was most unusual and thus deserved a most unusual fee.

“Your father’s life,” the mermaids said as they came back to the shore. “Your father’s life, and she will grant you fins.”

Veronique had no idea what to do. It’s rational to think that she would have cried no, and ran as far from the sea as it is possible to run. But the desire was in her now, and she could only hear the stories of life underwater, of the hundreds of years she could live in that paradise.

“And if I say no?” She inquired, wondering at last how she could possibly agree.

“If you say no, you’ll become one of us – but in the state we are when we are dead.”

“I’ll be … dead?”

“You will turn into seafoam and give up your soul. You’ve already asked the Sea Crone’s aid. If you do not accept her help, you must suffer the consequences. It is your father’s life or yours, and you will lose your soul. Your father will not. ”

Veronique felt suddenly suffocated. She was mad with longing, half-crazed with the desire to become a mermaid … and yet, how could she be happy knowing her father’s life had been the price? Her lovable, peaceful, innocent father?

Walking home that night was terrible. With a knife in her hand, given to her by the Sea Crone, she snuck up to her father’s rooms to bury the blade into his heart. She knew what she needed, what she wanted, and she could not bear to lose her soul. Afterall, the mermaids had said sweetly, the king will keep his soul after death.

Veronique made her way to her sleeping father, watching him as he snored softly and lay huddled beneath his bedcovers.

After a while, she returned to the sea, where the mermaids waited with baited breath.

“Well?” they asked, on the edge of suspense.

Veronique healed up the knife, which dripped with warm, sticky blood and shimmered sweetly in the moonlight.

“We knew you would! We knew!”

The mermaids dashed beneath the waves, eager to tell the Sea Crone that her fee was paid and that Veronique should have her fins.

But Veronique was an innocent. She had not been able to kill her father. The blood that dripped from the dagger’s edge was her own, and she fell into the sea with a tranquil smile, hardly making a splash.

Her body lay at the shore’s edge, the water-beads on her skin twinkling in the moonlight. When the mermaids discovered her, they were aghast, and they were surprised, too – surprised that she had not yet turned into seafoam. The eldest of the mermaids went to the Sea Crone, who said,

“She had not yet paid my fee when the knife went into her heart. I had the power to kill her and take her soul, but she beat me to it. Pity.”

Veronique, out of purity and love, had been spared her soul. She stayed near her sisters often, but mostly she hovered invisibly at her father’s side, sending him rays of light and love to warm his lonely soul.

The king should have ceased to ever speak again. When he saw his daughter’s body half in the muddy shore, he should have had nightmares for the rest of his life – both of his wife and Veronique. Instead, he felt a loving calm wrap around him, and when he was most distraught, most lonely, most vulnerable, he would smell Veronique’s favorite perfume, or hear her soft giggle.

Veronique’s soul kept him calm, even happy sometimes, and she stayed with him until he died five years later of a stroke.

When his soul finally rose from his tired body, Veronique and her mother were there to catch it; together, the three went up to heaven, where a sea of clouds awaited them.


Stella Rothe is 26 and currently studying English and philosophy in Rochester, Michigan. Her photography and writing has most recently been published in Ceremony, Pink Panther Magazine, Nain Rouge, and BAC Street Journal.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

The Regrets of Miss Moore
Cheryl Diane Kidder

Miss Moore’s life is filled with regrets. She has so many regrets she had to go down to Home Depot and purchase a DIY shelving unit. She spent one Saturday afternoon putting up the shelf and then lovingly placed each of her numerous regrets up on the shelf to better observe them.

Unfortunately, though, she had only purchased the three foot canary yellow shelving unit and she had so many regrets that the shelf was filled up very quickly.

It was on her third trip down to the basement to haul up her boxed up regrets that she realized she was going to need a bigger shelf.

Since she already had the boxes out, she opened each one and pulled out every regret she had ever boxed up and placed them on the turquoise shag carpet of her living room.

Standing back she thought they looked quite pretty all lined up on the carpet, the long blue strands tickling each one under the chin, just slightly. But she knew this wasn’t practical.

So she boxed up all her regrets once again and stacked the boxes over in the corner in between her hi-fi and her new remote-controlled color TV. She sat in her burnt orange, velour recliner and stared at the boxes trying to envision the proper setting.

In a flash she knew what she’d have to do. She was going to have to build an addition to the house, temperature and light controlled, filled with pedestals for the smallest and grand display cases for the largest.

She took out all of her savings and hired a contractor she liked the look of to do the work. Three months later she stood in the middle of her new showroom. She played with the dimmer switch so the lights came up brightly, then slowly lowered them so that each empty surface had just the right amount of dark and shadow.

Then she brought the boxes in and unpacked her regrets once again. Now each one had its own special place—large or small, fat or thin, multi-faceted or dull as a hammer—they all shone brilliantly in their new home.

Once everything was in place she broke down the boxes and took them out to the curb. From her front yard she turned and could see into the picture window of the new addition. It wasn’t what she expected at all. The contractor had placed the one-way glass the wrong way round and anyone walking or driving past could see every one of her regrets now, beautifully lit and silhouetted in the new addition.

This was all wrong. This was completely wrong.

She picked up a shovel and swung it through the newly built picture window, glass shards flying, the sound deafening. She stepped into the room and toppled every pedestal, every shelf, every display case. She destroyed all of it.

When she was done, she dropped the shovel and slowly picked up every regret she could find and placed each one out on the front lawn. When she had emptied the destroyed showplace she knew one thing—she was going to need a bigger house.


Cheryl Diane Kidder has a B.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Cutthroat Magazine, Weber–The Contemporary West, Bound Off, Brevity Magazine, Pembroke Magazine, Dogzplot, Watercress Journal, Jersey Devil Press, The Northville Review, JMWW, Cobalt, Identity Theory, Map Literary, The Atticus Review, The New Purlieu Review, Eclectica, Word Riot, In Posse Review, The Reed, Clackamas Literary Review and elsewhere. Her blog is: TrueWest and she is at Poets & Writers here.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

The Door in the Kitchen
E.A. Fow

There was a door I had never seen before. I have lived in this house since I was seven years old and walked through the kitchen for twenty-five years without seeing that next to the basement door was another, smaller door. I wondered if my husband knew about it. As a relative newcomer to the house, he often noticed things I took for granted, or that I had seen with child eyes and thus never seen again as an adult. Surely, though, I would have noticed a door and opened it. It looked like a regular door, paneled and Victorian like the rest of the house, but it was a little shorter, a little narrower. Its paint was chipping, revealing other layers of paint below, traces of previous occupants and other lives.

I thought about opening it then, but I decided to wait until my family returned from the store; mostly I was worried about rats. Last year Paul, my husband, found them in the attic and the basement. He put down poison and traps, and they seem to have worked as no rats have appeared. The last thing I wanted to do was open a new door if it might unleash a plague of them on my house. I would wait until we could devise a plan.

When the car pulled into the driveway, I ran out to kiss the girls and help with the groceries. I told Paul what I had found. He swore he’d never seen a door there, either, and when we took the bags into the kitchen, he gave me a worried look: there was no mysterious second door, just the old one that led to the basement. I felt sick; I knew I had seen it, but now it was gone. He kindly changed the subject, and we put the groceries away while talking about signing the kids up at the Y. He asked if I was feeling ok, saying I looked flushed, a little feverish.

Later, while we ate dinner around the big table in the family room, my husband went back to the kitchen to refill the water jug. When he didn’t return, I assumed he’d gotten a call from work and I’d better get the water before the kids amped up their threats to die of thirst. When I got to the kitchen door, it was three quarters closed and I could hear him talking. He often had to take calls from work at night, and I didn’t want to interrupt him, so I gently nudged the door open and was so shocked at what I saw that I yelped.

The small door was there, and it was open, and my Paul was talking to someone whom I couldn’t see in the dark on the other side of it. When he heard me, he slammed the extra door shut, then turned around and leaned against it. By the time I got inside the kitchen and over to him, the extra door had completely disappeared. He didn’t look at me or say anything, just coolly walked over to the sink and filled up the jug.

“What’s going on?” I whimpered. “Paul? I don’t understand!”

“You don’t look well, you should take something,” he said. He handed me a glass of water then walked right past me and out of the room.

I ran over to the wall and ran my fingers over it, but I felt nothing. I put my ear to it but heard nothing. When I went back to the family room, everyone was eating their dinner. Paul seemed his normal self, and my two daughters were completely oblivious. I tried not to look at my husband and after dinner he carried on as if nothing had happened. We all washed the dishes together in the kitchen, and he didn’t so much as glance over to where the door had been. I began to wonder if nothing had actually happened at all, if perhaps something was wrong with me. My elder daughter asked if I was feeling sick, and I hoped perhaps I was.

Eventually, I had to put the kids to bed. I contemplated “accidentally” falling asleep in their room. I feared what would happen when I left them and was alone with my husband, but I decided for their sake I’d better behave as if everything was normal. Once I had a better handle on what was happening, I could decide what to do. I turned on their nightlight and was about to leave their room when out of the corner of my eye I saw something near Kathie’s dollhouse. There was an extra door, child-sized and slightly ajar. On the other side of the door was darkness so thick and black it seemed physical. Looking at it, I could feel the dim glow of the night lights being sucked towards it, streaming like water, then the light devoured. With effort I pulled my eyes away and looked at my daughters. The littlest one was watching me.

“You’re not supposed to know, Mommy,” she said sweetly. “It’s a surprise.”

“I won’t tell,” I said and backed out of the room.


E.A. Fow writes and paints in Brooklyn, NY. She currently has stories currently online at Penduline and Fiction 365 and Luna Station Quarterly and forthcoming in anthologies from Imagination and Place Press, Fiction Attic Press, and Green Gecko Publishing.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Examination
Stone Showers

Ellie stood with her back to the shower, the hot water cascading down over her neck and shoulders. Her eyes were closed, her head tilted slightly back. She held her left breast cupped in her right hand, her fingers squeezing lightly, pushing, searching. Her palm worked upwards, across the nipple, her fingers pressing down in a circular motion as they passed across her flesh. She tried to imagine that it was Brad’s hand on her breast, but the illusion was spoiled by the knowledge that his hands would have been rougher than her own, his fingers more focused on the nipple than the meaty flesh surrounding it.

Ellie opened her eyes and looked down at herself. Her breasts were small but firm. She liked that about them. There had been a time, after she was first married, that she had considered having them enlarged. But she decided finally to leave them as they were. If their marriage was to work, she realized, her husband would need to accept her as she was. And he had, at least in the beginning.

Closing her eyes again, Ellie lifted her left hand to her right breast and cupped it gently. Repeating the procedure she had performed on the opposite side, she began the slow and systematic exploration of herself that her doctor had taught her. Fifteen seconds into the examination she stopped. Her fingers paused at something unexpected.

“Shit.” The word escaped from her lips without her knowing. Ellie dropped her hand to her side, turned and dunked her whole face under the stream of the shower. The water had begun to turn cold.

“Shit,” she said again, this time louder and with some awareness that she’d said it. Ellie turned the water off and forced herself to take several deep breaths.

It’s nothing, she said to herself, You imagined it. Check again.

Hesitantly, Ellie reached up to her breast once more, searching for the node she had felt before. It took a few seconds for her to find it, and when she did her fingers paused, unwilling to delve deeper. It’s nothing, she told herself again. You’re overreacting. But the lump she felt was definitely not nothing. Ellie’s aunt had once told her that when she had first found her lump it had reminded her of a pea. Ellie pushed her fingers deeper into her flesh, feeling, moving, analyzing. Was this what her aunt had felt? Several seconds passed before Ellie realized that she had stopped breathing. She forced herself to take a breath, and then another.

Ellie dropped her hand to her side and stood motionless for several moments in the shower, her mind numb. Without the hot water streaming over her, she soon began to feel chilled. She stepped quickly out of the shower, lifted a clean towel off of the rack and hugged it to her chest. She stood this way for several minutes, looking down at the floor. Then, despite her best efforts not to, she began to cry.

 

Brad sat in his chair, watching Sports Center as he did each morning. He held his coffee mug with both hands, his eyes focused on the TV. He took a sip of coffee, swallowed, set the cup down on the table beside him. Ellie stood behind him, hidden in the shadows of the hall. She cleared her throat, hoping her husband would notice her. He didn’t. She tried again.

“Honey, can we talk?”

Ellie stepped out into the light so that Brad could see her. Brad’s head turned in her direction, but his eyes never left the TV. On the screen, two ex football coaches discussed the various aspects of the upcoming Superbowl. The game was this coming Sunday, and it seemed to Ellie that this singular fact had become the sole focus of Brad’s attention.

“I guess so,” Brad said. “What d’ya need?”

What do I need? I need you to pay attention to me. I need you to notice that I’ve been crying. I need you to hold me.

“I found a lump on my breast this morning.” She said. Ellie took a deep breath, waiting for her husband to respond.

“A lump?” Brad glanced at her, then back at the TV again. “You mean like a zit?”

Ellie almost laughed. “No.” At first this was all she could manage. She wanted to scream at him: No, not like a zit, you idiot! Like cancer. Like the breast cancer that killed my aunt. I’m scared, and the only thing you’re concerned about is whether I might have acne on my tits?

Ellie took another deep breath, swallowed hard and tried again.

“No, not like a zit,” she said. “Like cancer.”

That got his attention. Brad turned and looked at her. He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again.

“Are you sure?” He asked finally.

What do I look like– a doctor? “No, I’m not sure. There’s a lump there. That’s all I know. I need to go see my doctor.”

“Oh.”

Brad was not very good at expressing his thoughts. It had not always been this way. When they were first dating Brad had loved to talk. They would sometimes sit together for hours, their conversations ranging from music to books to world affairs. Now they rarely spoke. If they did, it was only to discuss the weather, or the children or things they might need at the store. At times, Ellie felt that Brad was more like her roommate than her husband. She missed the closeness they used to have. She missed the sense that, when she was with him, she was no longer alone.

Brad looked at Ellie for a moment, then turned back to the TV. On the screen one of Brad’s favorite players was giving an interview.

“Do you want me to go with you?” He asked. He did not look at her, but continued to stare at the television.

“Yes.” Ellie surprised herself with this answer. “Yes, I think I need you there.”

“Okay.” Brad looked up at her. “What time?”

“I’ll call today. I’ll let you know.”

 

The waiting room was nearly empty. There were two TVs, one at either end of the room. On the one closest to them Humphrey Bogart stood in the fog with Ingrid Bergman. The sound was turned down low so that Ellie had to imagine the conversation between them. Ellie recognized the scene from Casablanca. It was one of her favorite movies. Brad had taken her to see this movie when they were first dating. It was playing in one of the recently remodeled movie palaces downtown. The theater was full. Ellie had cried at the ending and Brad had put his arm around her. That night they made love for the first time.

Ellie looked at her husband. Brad watched a basketball game on the other TV. He stared intently at the screen, his hands clenching at the arms of his chair as one of the teams missed what appeared to be an easy shot.

“Who’s winning?” Ellie asked.

“We are.” Brad answered. His eyes did not waver from the screen.

Are we? Ellie wondered.

Watching him, Ellie wondered what it was about sports that interested him so. Is it just an excuse to spend less time with me? But she knew that wasn’t it. Brad had been an athlete in college, and sports had always been a part of his life. Their first date had been to a basketball game. Two years later, when he proposed to her, he reserved the same seats, and then arranged to have the stadium camera focus on him as he knelt down in front of her. Ellie was so stunned to see her own image on the giant stadium screen above her, that she did not give him an answer at first. He teased her about that each year on their anniversary.

“Do you still love me?” Ellie asked. She hated herself for asking this. She had been asking this question of him a lot lately, and though he answered the same each time, she still wasn’t sure if she knew the answer.

“Of course,” Brad said. I’m still here aren’t I?”

Yes, I suppose you are. But was that enough?

Ellie was realistic enough to know that things could never be like they were when they’d been dating. She did not dwell on this fact. She knew that it was normal, that all such relationships cooled over time. Still, she would have liked her husband to be a little more affectionate than he was; a little more attentive to her needs.

Ellie reached out and touched her husband’s hand. Instinctively, he started to pull away from her, then changed his mind and let his wife clasp her hand over his. Brad was uncomfortable with public displays of affection. This fact had bothered her in the early years of their marriage. But like a lot of his other imperfections, Ellie had gradually learned to accept it.

They had been waiting for just a little over ten minutes when the nurse came into the room and told them that the doctor was ready to see them. Brad did not get up immediately. He hesitated, watching as the last few seconds ticked off on the game.

Really? Ellie thought. Is this really what’s most important to you now?

Only when the final score was certain, did Brad turn to her and ask, “Are you ready?”

“I was ready seven seconds ago.” Ellie said. Her voice was cold.

Brad frowned. He glanced up at the TV where the players in blue were celebrating their victory. It was clear to Ellie that Brad did not know how to respond to this.

“Never mind,” Ellie said. She stood quickly and gathered her things. “Let’s just get this over with.”

 

Ellie sat on the examination table, the paper beneath her making tiny crinkling noises each time she moved. She had changed into a hospital gown. As instructed, she had removed her blouse and bra. These she held in her hands, unsure what she was supposed to do with them. Brad sat in a wooden chair beside her, his fingers rapping a quiet rhythm on the counter next to him.

“Are you mad at me?” He asked.

Yes. Ellie thought.

She looked down at the clothes in her hands and wished that the nurse had given her a bag to put them in.

“No, I’m not mad,” she said.

Tired of holding onto her clothes, Ellie turned and set them down on the table behind her.

“I’m just scared,” she said.

Brad nodded. He hesitated for a moment, then reached out and touched his hand to hers. Hesitantly, tentatively, Brad moved his fingers back and forth across her wrist, offering Ellie the barest of caresses. Despite herself, Ellie smiled.

The door to the room opened then. At the sound of the latch Brad removed his hand from her arm and dropped it quickly to his lap. He looked slightly embarrassed as he turned to face the doctor.
Doctor Evers closed the door behind him. He nodded to Ellie, and then introduced himself to Brad. Doctor Evers was much taller than Brad, and older, his short cropped hair just beginning to gray at the temples. He reminded Ellie of a college professor she had once had a crush on.

“What seems to be the trouble?” The doctor asked.

Ellie glanced at her husband, then back at the doctor. Briefly, she wondered if they had made a mistake by coming here. She had a sudden urge to get up and run, but knew that this would only prolong the inevitable.

“It’s okay,” Brad told her. “You can do this.”

Ellie smiled at him, nodded, then turned and looked back at the doctor.

“I found a lump,” she said finally, her words little more than a whisper. “A lump on my breast.”

“I see.” The doctor jotted a few notes down on her chart. “Do you perform self-exams regularly?”

“Yes–at least I try to.” Ellie hesitated, then added, “My aunt died of breast cancer.”

Ellie and her aunt had been very close. In many ways the older woman had been her best friend. Ellie had been devastated when she died. It was only after she met Brad, several months later, that she began to slowly piece her life back together.

“Do you have any other relatives that have had breast cancer,” Doctor Evers asked, “Mother, sister?”

Ellie shook her head.

The doctor noted this fact down on her chart, then set his clipboard on the counter beside Brad.

“Do you mind if I take a look?” The doctor asked. He stood directly in front of her now. Ellie’s shoulders tensed. She nodded her assent. Beside her, Brad fidgeted in his chair, clearly uncomfortable. As the doctor untied her gown, Brad looked away.

Ellie closed her eyes as the older man reached out to touch her. She tried to think of something pleasant, but could think only of the fear in her aunt’s voice when she had first told Ellie of the cancer. Ellie inhaled sharply at the doctor’s touch. His hands were cold, the tips of his fingers smooth–not at all like Brad’s. Instinctively, Ellie leaned away from him. She reached out for the table behind her to steady her balance. As she did so her hands pushed aside the bra and blouse she had set there. She heard them fall to the floor.

“Is this the lump here?” Doctor Evers asked. His fingers paused on the node.

Ellie nodded. The doctor pressed the lump between his thumb and forefinger, rolling it from side to side.

Aghh, that hurts.” Ellie opened her eyes wide. She glanced at her husband. Brad was very intentionally not looking at her. He reached down and scooped her clothes off the floor, then held them in his lap as Ellie had done earlier.

“I’m sorry, Ellie,” Doctor Evers said. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” The doctor removed his hands from her breast, stood and turned to the sink to wash up. “You can cover yourself again if you like.”
Ellie took a deep breath and pulled the gown quickly over her breasts. Beside her, Brad had folded her blouse, and was now trying to fold her bra. Frustrated, he gave up finally and set the clothes back on the table behind her. He looked up at Ellie.

“Are you okay?” He asked her.

Ellie nodded. Brad watched her for a moment, then turned to the doctor.

“Is she going to be okay, Doc?”

Doctor Evers dried his hands with a paper towel, then tossed the damp rag into a wastebasket. Picking up his clipboard once more, he turned to face Ellie and Brad.

“It’s too early to know exactly what we’re dealing with,” He said. “Breast cancer is certainly one of the possibilities. But there are others as well.” Doctor Evers smiled at Ellie. “Try to keep that in mind. Of course the only way to know for sure is to do a biopsy.”

Ellie swallowed hard.

“A biopsy?” Ellie struggled to keep her voice from cracking. She was deathly afraid of needles or knives of any sort, and felt herself growing faint at the thought of needing an operation.

“What does that involve?” She asked.

“It’s a minor procedure,” the doctor said, “Done with local anesthetic. It’s really quite simple, and relatively painless. I assume you would like to get this over with as soon as possible?”

Ellie looked at Brad. Her husband nodded. Ellie felt nauseous. She did not want to be here anymore. She wanted to go home and crawl into bed and forget that any of this had ever happened.

The doctor stepped to a computer terminal in the corner and tapped at the keyboard for several seconds. On the screen, Ellie recognized the multi-colored grid of the hospital’s scheduling program. Doctor Evers clicked on an empty square, expanded it, studied the screen for a moment. He then turned back to Ellie and Brad.

“Surgery has an opening Sunday at 2.” He said. “Will that day work for you?”

“Sunday?” Ellie was surprised this mattered to her, but Sunday was the day of the Superbowl. She turned to Brad. “What time does the game start?” She asked.

“Three o’clock,” Brad answered. His voice was flat, emotionless. The same thought had obviously occurred to him.

“Oh, yes—The Big Game.” Doctor Evers commented. “I’d forgotten all about it. I’m afraid I’m not much of a football fan. Is Sunday a problem for you then?

“Yes.” Ellie said.

“No,” Brad interrupted.

Ellie turned to her husband in disbelief.

“Sunday will work just fine.” Brad said. “We don’t want to wait.”

The barest hint of a smile creased the corners of the doctor’s mouth. He looked from Brad to Ellie, then back again, as if expecting one of them to speak. When neither of them did, he shrugged and turned back to his computer screen.

“Alright then,” he said. “Sunday it is.”

 

Ellie was terrified the day of the surgery. Her hands were visibly shaking.

Brad looked at her and tried to smile. “I know you’re scared,” he said. “I’m scared too. But we’ll get through this. I know we will.”

Ellie blinked hard, holding back tears.

This waiting room was like the other one, but smaller. They were the only ones here. There was a TV in the corner, but no one had bothered to switch it on.

“Why don’t you ask if they’ll turn the game on for you?” Despite herself, Ellie felt guilty that Brad had to miss his game.

“It’s alright,” Brad said. “I’m recording it. We can watch it later.”

Why is he acting this way? Ellie wondered. Does he think I’m going to die?

“Do you think I’m going to die?” Ellie asked.

“Don’t say that.” The thought seemed to visibly upset him. “We don’t know anything yet. It might be—probably is—nothing.” Brad looked at her then, his eyes intense. “We’ll get through this,” he said again. “You have to believe that, okay?”

Reluctantly, Ellie nodded. “Okay,” she said.

 

They sat in the empty waiting room for nearly an hour past their appointed time. Ellie grew more nervous with each passing minute. Brad tried to calm her by talking about his job, the children, the book he had just finished reading. Ellie heard little of what he said, but was glad for the sound of his voice. It reminded her of the conversations they used to have when they were dating.

“Do you remember when we used stay up all night talking?” Ellie asked.

“Yes.” Brad’s voice sounded almost wistful.

Ellie looked up into his eyes. “Why don’t we talk like that anymore?”

Brad shrugged. “I don’t know.” He said.

Ellie leaned her head against her husband’s shoulder. She pressed her face against his chest, breathing in the scent of him. They had raked leaves together that morning, and then burned the pile in the backyard. Brad had changed his shirt afterward, but his chest still smelled of woodsmoke and sweat.

“I miss those talks.” Ellie said.

Brad lifted his arm and wrapped it around Ellie’s shoulders. He pulled her close then, his hand gently caressing the bare flesh of her upper arm. His hand was warm, the tips of his fingers rough on her skin.

“I miss them too.” He said.

Ellie lay one hand against her husband’s stomach. With his free hand Brad grasped hold of hers and squeezed gently.

“It’s going to be alright,” He said.

Despite her tears, Ellie smiled.

“It already is,” she said. It already is.


Stone Showers has recently had pieces accepted for publication in the Love Hurts Anthology, as well as Spark: A Creative Anthology.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Pirates
Steven L. Wilson

It is early on a Monday morning in April of 1746. The sun sits on the horizon like a gold doubloon, and you, Gerald Larson, are a pirate.

You stand at the bow of the Blue Dagger, a gorgeous Bermuda sloop with two jibs, three sails, ten guns, and thirty-four men. All your men are fearsome pirates like you.

The flying jib loses the wind, flaps like a wounded gull, and fills again. You raise your spyglass to your right eye and peer into a breeze at a cutter in the distance. She is bigger than your ship. More sails. More guns. More men. It is the Morning Maiden, the most feared pirate ship in the Caribbean, and she’s headed your way, sails full, sun and wind at her aft.

Pirates usually don’t fight one another. Some things are just understood. You think that’s even part of the pirates’ code, but you know this is no ordinary pirate. This is Suzanne of the Sea, the toughest pirate west of Trinidad, and fate has brought you two together once again.

“Ready guns!” you call. A mere formality. Your cannons are already loaded. Your crew stands with cutlasses tucked into bright blue sashes. They hold their flintlock pistols high and wave them back and forth. An act of bravado. It’s much too soon to fire.

“Come port twenty degrees,” you call.

“Twenty degrees,” echoes the first mate.

You will run straight for Suzanne until one of you turns first, shows weakness. If neither of you turns, you will ram head-on.

Two hundred yards.

You stare through your spyglass at the bow of the Morning Maiden and spot a knot of pirates. But you don’t see Suzanne. Not yet.

One-hundred yards.

Suzanne hasn’t flinched. She’s headed right for you. A few of your crew shift positions, edging near something to grab on to. Your first mate curls his left arm around the main mast and pulls himself in tight.

Fifty yards.

Why does she show no fear, no wisdom? She should turn and fire broadsides. You know that. She knows that. But she won’t. She’s stubborn.

Twenty-five yards.

“Captain!” calls the First Mate, hugging main mast.

“Bear hard starboard,” you yell. The ship comes right. You have flinched first. You steady your footing, but you don’t grab onto anything. You know Suzanne is watching. You will not show another sign of fear, another sign of weakness.

The Morning Maiden comes port, turning to match your turn, but your guns are in position before Suzanne’s.

“Fire!” you command, and the cannons let loose with a roar. Two pirates crumble to the deck of the Morning Maiden and one falls overboard with a horrible screech. It’s the crew you want to destroy, not Suzanne. Her you want alive.

Suzanne’s broadsides are on you now, and your men drop to the deck. “Cowards,” you think. You don’t drop. You will show no fear. The Morning Maiden fires her cannons. No men fall. But Suzanne’s not aiming for your crew. She has ripped a gaping hole in your mainsail.

Now you see her. Suzanne of the Sea. Fiery bandana wrapped around her forehead. Red silk blouse. Black boots trimmed with gold. Cutlass gripped in her right hand. She’s pointing, pointing at the Blue Dagger. No. Not at the ship. She is pointing at you.

“Prepare grappling hooks,” you yell. The pilot turns hard port toward the Morning Maiden.

#

“It’s green.”

“What?” I ask.

“Jerry, the light’s green,” says Susan.

We’ve been married twenty-one years, and I wonder how many times she’s said, “The light’s green.” I hit the gas and ease through the intersection. It’s early on a Monday morning. Yellow and green streetlights reflect off the rain-soaked streets. Traffic is light, only one car up ahead. Clean morning air flows in through my open window. Dark clouds hang thick in the sky.

“What are you thinking?” Susan watches the car in front of us as I accelerate toward glowing taillights.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing at all?” As I approach the car, Susan presses her right foot to the floorboard, hitting an imaginary brake.

“Nothing important.”

“Are you thinking about that pirate game you’ve been playing on the internet?” she asks.

“Of course not.” I look over at her soft features in the early morning light. Small nose. Slender jaw. A clean, perfect profile.

“It’s okay if you are,” says Susan.

“Maybe I was thinking about it a little,” I say.

“It’s better than worrying.” Susan chews at a cuticle then examines the finger. “You’re not worried are you?”

“I’m alright. How are you doing?”

“I’m okay.” She pulls her right foot back and looks into the vanity mirror on the passenger’s sunshade.

“It’s not that uncommon, you know.” I’m afraid I sound a little insensitive, but she doesn’t seem to take it that way. I’m glad because I’ve been very careful about what I’ve said lately. Susan has too.

“I know,” she says. “It happens all the time.” She runs a finger across a black spot on her left cheek. It’s not a big spot. Looks like an oblong drop of dark chocolate. She rubs it hard. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t come off.

“Do you think this is really all of it?”

“Of course it is.” I’ve told her that dozens of times, but she still asks. “You’ve checked. Doctor Adams has checked. I’ve checked.”

After she finally realized that the spot might be more than a mole, we checked every inch of her body looking for other spots. There weren’t any more. Just this one. Just this single remnant from a drop of too much sun twenty years ago. Maybe longer.

“I hope this is all,” she says.

“It’s not even that complicated.” I pull into the hospital parking lot and find a spot marked “outpatient surgery.”

We check in at the reception desk.

“Susan Larson.” Susan takes out a driver’s license and shows it to the receptionist.

The receptionist checks her computer. “You have a procedure with Doctor Adams at eight o’clock.”

“That’s right.” Susan signs a consent form.

“Have a seat and we’ll call you soon.”

Susan and I sit down on a green vinyl couch by a lamp in the corner of the waiting room.
“I’ll be here the whole time,” I say.

“Did you bring something to read?” asks Susan.

“I’ll find something.”

“You should have brought a book,” she says. “I told you to.”

“I’ll find something to do.” I pick up a Highlights and open it up to a picture of a big tree, a fence, and two clouds. Then I start looking for the hidden clock.
“There’s the kitten,” says Susan pointing to one of the clouds.

A nurse comes out and rolls a wheelchair up to Susan. Then he takes her by the hand and helps her sit down.

“This is probably all of it.” Susan runs her finger down her face, from her cheekbone to her jawbone as if her finger were a scalpel.

The nurse rolls Susan away and I spend the next half hour looking for that damned clock.

#

Grappling hooks lock, men strain at the ropes, and the two ships close in anger. Your crew fires pistols, clouding the deck with grey smoke and the sharp stink of black powder. The other crew fires in return and four men drop. What’s left of your men draw cutlasses, howl in rage, and storm the Morning Maiden.

That isn’t your fight. Your fight won’t be with the crew. Your fight will be with Suzanne of the Sea. Let Captain meet Captain.

“Captain Larson,” calls Suzanne. She stands on her deck, hands on her hips, chin lowered. She is looking at you.

“Captain Larson,” you return.

“We meet again.”

“It’s time,” you say.

Suzanne removes her hands from her hips, takes two large steps, and leaps onto the deck of the Blue Dagger, landing in a squat. You lunge for her with your cutlass, but she rolls to her left. You follow with a quick chop. Her defense is good, her reflexes fast. Your swords clash.

You take two steps back and hold your cutlass at the ready. Suzanne stands and mimics your pose.

You hear cutlasses clash behind you on the Morning Maiden. Men grunt and groan. But you don’t remove your gaze from Suzanne. Her eyes narrow to slits and her lips part, showing clenched teeth.

“We have a score to settle,” she growls.

“Things to resolve right here.” Your voice is low.

She steps forward and thrusts at your midsection. “This is for boarding my ship.”

“This is for trying to ram me.” You parry and counter.

“This is for spending too much time on that damned computer.” She thrusts again, aiming for your face.

“This is for scaring the hell out of me.” You dodge and slash.

She blocks your cutlass. “For withdrawing into your make-believe world when I needed you most.”

“Why did you have to get cancer?” You circle each other, waiting for a chance to attack.

“I guess I was bored.”

“If you do it again….”

“What? You fight like a baby.”

“Don’t do it again.” You swipe at her legs and she swipes at your face. One of you will draw first blood. It’s only a matter of time.

“People get sick.” She moves to your left, looking for an opening. “Look at you.”

“What about me?”

“You haven’t been to a doctor in five years.” She steps and thrusts at your left arm.

You turn and dodge but the point of her cutlass rips your blue, silk shirt. “I feel fine.”

“It’s called a damned checkup. They check you. Then you know whether you’re really fine or not.”

“I’m not going,” you yell in rage.

“Too bad,” she growls. “You’ve got a dental appointment with Allen the Cruel on Monday.”

You seethe in anger. Allen the Cruel is the only pirate you fear more than Suzanne. “Aaarrrggghhh,” you cry.

You step forward, swinging a slashing blow. Her feet are fast and she swings back slicing the front of your shirt. Now you spar around the deck. Past mast. Past helm. Past a barrel of rum.

“You better start flossing,” she snarls.

“My teeth are in great shape.”

“I’m telling him you’re not wearing your night guard.” She lowers her sword as she circles.

“This is for making me sleep downstairs.” You slash at her, thinking she has dropped her guard.

Suzanne jumps back and you miss her. “Have you ever heard yourself snore? I should tape you some day.”

“I can’t help it.” You lunge for her, and this time your swords lock together and you grab her wrist.

“It’s probably sleep apnea.” She shoves hard and you fly back. “You should get it checked,” she yells.

The fight is brutal. Your blue silk shirt hangs like rags. Suzanne’s bandanna is soaked in sweat.

“Just don’t do it again,” you growl.

“Don’t do what?” she snarls. “Don’t do what?”

“Don’t ever get cancer again,” you scream. As you scream, you slash downwards and the tip of your cutlass grazes Suzanne’s face leaving a long cut on her left cheek.

Suzanne of the Sea puts her left hand to her face and pulls it back, staring at the blood on her fingers. You expect anger and hate, but all you see is a blank stare.

“Now look what you’ve done,” she says.

You lower your cutlass to your side, but you don’t know what to say. Pirates aren’t supposed to apologize. You think it says something about that in the pirates’ code.

“I’m going to have a scar now,” says Suzanne.

“Pirates have scars,” you yell. “That’s what pirates do.”

“What do pirates do?” she screams back at you. “What in the hell do pirates do?”

“They fight. They get scars.”

“And they die.” Suzanne takes her bandana off her head and holds it to her face. “All the pirates have to die.”

“But you can’t,” you say. All the fighting on the Morning Maiden has stopped. What’s left of your crew is kneeling on the deck. Suzanne’s pirates stand over them, staring at you. “You can’t,” you say, backing up to the main-mast. Suzanne lays the blade of her cutlass to your throat.

#

“Mr. Larson?”

“Yes?”

Doctor Adams is standing over me in one of those green hospital scrubs. A surgical mask hangs at his neck.

“We’re done now,” says Doctor Adams. “It took a little longer than I thought it would.”

“Is she alright?” I ask.

“She’s fine, Mr. Larson.”

“Can I see her?”

“In a little while. We’re monitoring her right now. Afraid she got a little restless during the surgery. Some people dream. It’s not unheard of.”

I look at my watch. It’s been an hour and a half. I feel bad for not noticing how long it took.

“But she’s fine?” I stand up and look toward the door to outpatient surgery.

“The cancer had spread a little more than I thought, but I got it all.”

“All of it?” I ask again.

“She’s fine. She’ll need some time to recover.”

“I’ve taken a week off,” I say.

“Good.” Doctor Adams hands me a prescription. “She will need this for the pain.”

A nurse rolls Susan out of surgery. Her eyes are sagging and her lower lip juts out like a wad of pink bubble gum. She looks tired. A large white bandage covers the left side of her face.

“You look good.” I walk over and take her hand.

“I’m going to have a big scar,” says Susan.

“Can I see it?” I look at the doctor. He nods.

Doctor Adams kneels beside Susan and gently pulls the bandage back.

A long gash, neatly stitched, runs much of the way between the outer edge of Susan’s eye to the corner of her lip.

“You look really good,” I say.

She laughs a drowsy, light headed laugh. “I look like hell.”

“You look like a pirate,” I say.

“I am a pirate,” says Susan, “and I kicked your ass.”

#

Suzanne of the Sea runs the blade of her cutlass lightly over your throat, and you feel a trickle of blood run down your neck.

“What shall we do with them?” asks Suzanne’s first mate, waving a pistol toward your men.

“Take them as crew.” Suzanne pulls her cutlass away from your throat and cuts away the grappling hooks. The ships drift apart.

You and Suzanne are alone on the Blue Dagger. You wipe the blood off your neck with what’s left of your shirt. Suzanne throws down her cutlass and readies the rigging. Even with a gaping hole, the main sail catches some wind.

You go to the helm and steer away from the Morning Maiden.

“Where are we sailing to?” you ask.

“Home,” she says.

And you sail down the freeway toward your exit, wondering what all the other pirates are thinking as you pass them by.


Steven L. Wilson is a 2011 graduate of Clarion West Writer’s Workshop and an active member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. His short stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Lightspeed Magazine.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Why the Willow Weeps
Sara E. Lundberg

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a Princess. The Princess thought that she was a very ordinary girl, but she had a magic about her. Not only was she smart, beautiful, and strong-willed, she was also amazingly kind-hearted. Everyone she met instantly felt the warmth she exuded and fell in love with her.

The queen of the land, the princess’s mother, was an evil queen. People couldn’t help disliking the Queen just as they couldn’t help the way they loved the Princess. The Princess grew up lonely, but despite her mother, or maybe because of her, she surrounded herself with those she loved, and made her own family.

She also had a magical green thumb, something else that her mother, the Queen did not teach her. She treated nature – plants, trees, flowers, and anything that grew in the earth – with the same love she lavished on her friends.

The Princess’s father died when she was barely grown, and with his passing, she felt even more alone. That was when she met the Court Jester. He was barely grown, himself, but from that first moment they met, she felt a connection to him. Even with how young they were, she knew, she felt, that she had met her soulmate.

They became fast friends, and even in her grief over losing her father, he made her laugh like nobody ever had. The Queen did not approve of the friendship, and made things very difficult between them. Despite this, or maybe because of it, they fell deeply in love. The Jester told her in one of their stolen moments that he always thought he’d never find love, and that without her, he probably never would have.

It didn’t take long for the Queen to learn of their secret love. She immediately banished the Jester from the castle, and the kingdom. By this time, the Princess was fully grown, and instead of letting her mother rule her life, she ran away with the Jester.

They gallivanted across the land, and had many amazing adventures together: she teaching him all she new of nature and plants, and he making her laugh. Together, they cultivated many delicate, exotic plants. They also met many people along the way and cultivated many dear friends, and the Princess’s family continued to grow.

In time, they decided to make even greater additions to their family. They had three children, and from her first born to her last, she fell in love all over again with each one. She spent days watching them grow, just as she cultivated and watched her plants and flowers grow, while the Jester left home to try and make a living for them.

He worked long hours and missed a lot of his children growing up, and while he was still a Jester, he lost the edge to his laughter. They were poor, and had to struggle to make ends meet. They couldn’t rely on the Princess’s wealth since she was estranged, and the Queen made it difficult for them to earn however she could.

One day, when the children were old enough to be left with friends, the Princess decided to succumb to her call to help the earth. She put her gift to use, and worked a few days a week in a greenhouse to help mete out a living.

But the people in this land had been cruel to the earth, and had poisoned it so it had become very sick. As she worked, over the course of a few years, those poisons began to seep into the Princess. At first she only suffered from small tremors that she dismissed as nothing, but over time, she became very sick, as well.

She went to a healer, who told her that she could get better, but it would take a great deal of fighting, and the treatment could be as painful as the sickness.

The Princess was strong, and a fighter, so the years passed and one day her healer said that she had won. Her family rejoiced, and they went back to their lives, enjoying each day as a second chance to make the most of everything. Since she could no longer be so close to the earth, she turned to helping sick children, instead, where she made many more friends and touched many more lives.

But the poison was sinister, and while it appeared to be gone, it had just retreated deeper inside the Princess, lying dormant until it had a chance to overcome her again. Years went by, and it waited patiently, and finally, simply by being so deep inside the bones of the Princess, began to sicken her again.

At first she ignored the signs. It couldn’t be. She had won, that is what the healers had said. And she had stayed away from her beloved earth. However, she continued to grow week, and she and her family were forced to admit the truth.

She was dying.

So she did the only thing she knew. She fought. She fought long and hard, through winters and summers, and though she never gave up hope, those who loved her most dearly feared for the worst. They watched as her body consumed itself, until she had wasted away and there was nothing left.

Her friends and family came from afar to visit her. Even the heartless Queen came to her only daughter’s death bed and said her goodbyes, and tried to make amends.

And then she was gone.

The kingdom wept. Everyone who had loved the Princess, the princess who had lived the life of a simple peasant girl, gathered together and gave her a royal send off. There was overwhelming sadness, but there was also happiness in the gathering, as the people she had drawn in to her loving embrace pooled together their memories. The memories themselves were living things.

But it was time to let her go, so they returned her body to the earth she loved so well.

In the days after the Princess left her body, the sky clouded over and nature cried for the friends and family who were hurting over her loss. Swells of rain soaked into the earth. This wasn’t an ordinary rain, however. Because the Princess had always loved the earth, had always been so kind, had always given every part of herself for others, and because she was such a pure soul, the rain cleansed the earth of the poisons.

And as her family stood in her rain, their souls were put at ease, for she was now all around them: in the ground, in the air, in the water, and inside of them. She would always be with them, and the world would always have the gift she left behind.

They buried her beneath a beautiful willow tree that she had been so fond of, and had sat under for hours, watching her children play, reading books, or leaning against its trunk lost in thought. Now, because willow trees are sensitive souls, any time you find them drooping, they are mourning the loss of a friend. As the rain fell in the days after her death, the tree itself began to bend over her grave, its branches drooping until it looked like it was weeping itself, so they named the tree the Weeping Willow, who would forever mourn the loss of the Princess.


Sara E. Lundberg is a Kansas-grown writer of the urban fantasy persuasion. She is an editor and contributor for the Confabulator Cafe, a website that she helped create, where she writes monthly flash fiction: confabulatorcafe.com.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Portrait of an Ex-Lover
Sanchari Sur

I knew Sharanya by a different name. In a different time. This was before Calcutta became Kolkata, or before the Communist Party was defeated by the current Trinamul government. This was before I got married, and locked away my other self.

We had met in the dusty somnolence of one of Calcutta’s harsh summers. We were neighbours for a brief period. She was visiting with her mother. They had rented the apartment adjacent to mine.

I first became aware of her when she came over to say hello. I usually left my door open while working. It helped with the cross ventilation. That day I was working on a short story which was already past the deadline. And then, there she was, with her silent kiss on the back of my neck.

She spoke in memsahib English, with a hint of something-else. She claimed it was her Middle Eastern influence, having lived in Dubai for six months.

For a fifteen year old, she knew what she wanted. Sometimes, I would stare at my writing pad, my words failing me. All I could think of was her kohl-rimmed eyes, her thick, dark hair- zulfein, I called them- and the Italy-shaped bruise-like mark inside her left thigh. She told me when it first appeared a few years ago, her mother had thought it was a love bite, and she had received a thrashing. “But you were only thirteen then!” I exclaimed. She smiled, condescending, “Exactly.”

I was always amazed at her traveller’s soul. She seemed worldly, when she was not trying to be her age. I asked her once, “What are you running from?” She only kissed me in answer.

She loved my fish curry. When she ate, she chose to use her hands, just like me. I wonder what her mother said when she saw the turmeric stained hands.

“Teach me to write like you,” she had once said, as if writing is something one can teach.

“You need to be true to yourself, and then it will come to you, naturally,” I had advised.

The day she left, the monsoons had decided to come upon us. It was a welcome respite from the onslaught of the heat of Calcutta summers. The heat that built up slowly and crept into your clothes, your hair, your soul. Crept into your senses in a way that made you breathe it. Live it. You lived the heat till you thought about it every moment. You waited for the heat to break. And, it did. Without warning, the rains came upon you and washed the heat away. Settled the dust of Calcutta, and you could breathe again.

But with her leaving, I forgot how to breathe. Even now, after all these years, the coming of the monsoon pricks at an old wound that hasn’t quite healed yet. And, when my husband looks at me and asks, “Ki hoyeche? Why are you looking so sad?” I shake my head in silence and kiss him.


Sanchari Sur is a Bengali Canadian who was born in Calcutta, India. A graduate student of Gender Studies at Queen’s University, Kingston, she is currently working on her first novel tentatively titled, Blood Red Sky. Her photography, poetry, and short fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Map Literary, Barely South Review, Red River Review, nthposition, Pyrta and elsewhere. Her short story, “Those Sri Lankan Boys,” was selected to be a part of Diaspora Dialogues Youth Mentoring Program in Toronto in 2011. She blogs at sursanchari.wordpress.com.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Untitled #2
Untitled #2
Mary Moser

The Dead Garden
Laura Chitlon

Elsie was in the dead garden. She hated the name, but the garden was, undeniably, dead, as everyone in Dryden knew. For forty years nothing in it had bloomed. Once the delight of the village, it used to have legions of wild roses and flowering cherry trees with white and lavender blossoms raining down from their branches. All the ground had been covered in lilies and emerald grass. The spot had been a beloved place of leisure for the Dryden villagers for generations.

But one spring forty years ago, the garden did not bloom. It simply stayed as brown and bare as in winter, finished with both autumnal and springtime finery forever, it seemed. Every year it was hoped that the garden would again show forth its splendor, but it never would, staying in stark, shriveled obstinacy. Some unsuccessful efforts had been made to rejuvenate it, to no avail. Now no one visited the dead garden, only referring to it as a lost golden pastime that would never return.

The dead garden was situated on a large level space between the crests of two steep hills. It was enclosed by tall, dense bracken that hid it from view below but afforded a view of Dryden from above. Two cherry trees, their twined boughs leafless and grating against one another in wind, flanked the single stone bench. From it, one could see the whole front of the snug little Dryden schoolhouse and a good deal of the lane that led to it.

This was a hazy June afternoon of bird song and sun. It did not seem an afternoon fitting to host a drama of human passion, but it did. For Elsie came to the dead garden every weekday afternoon, rain or shine, to watch the schoolhouse until the schoolmaster emerged from it and went down the lane after all the children had gone. The simple reason for this dogged behavior was that she loved him and had loved him for years and would always love him.

His name was Christopher Lockley, and he had been Elsie’s teacher several years ago. Her love for him was slow to develop, but after three years of observing him at the front of the room she had come to know his gentle, honest nature. She relished the flavor of the sparkling wit he sometimes allowed to show, a wit that derived from real humor and not a bit of malice.

In her teen years, Elsie had entertained some hopes that Mr. Lockley might notice her–didn’t he smile at her a little differently than at his other pupils?–but now, at twenty, five years out of school and into the dawn of womanhood, she could no longer cherish such hopes. Mr. Lockley did not notice her, quite apart from loving her in return.

Elsie saw him quite often in town and church. The smiles he gave her when they met were so full of earnest goodwill that they nearly caused her to weep. Sometimes he spoke a few words to her. But he never sought her out; she was only an old pupil to him.

As Elsie reaped the bitter fruit of her ardor, the zest of life was waning for her. Day followed day in pale wistfulness, invigorated only by the daily visit to the dead garden, where she could gaze openly, hungrily, at Mr. Lockley without being seen, going home slightly comforted by the mere glimpse of him.

Elsie often chided herself for being a selfish, self-absorbed little fool who so shallowly saw nothing in life but a man who cared nothing for her beyond friendly courtesy. But the love remained, stored up in her heart, and even deepened.

Elsie tensed as the schoolhouse door opened as though it was the first time she had breathlessly waited for it. There he was, locking it behind him and striding away down the lane. How contented he looked, gazing about him at the placid greenery with his books under his arm. Heated passion, such as Elsie had for him, that drove her to obsessively watch him secretly, seemed totally alien to Mr. Lockley’s frank manner.

Elsie couldn’t see his face in detail from her lofty position, but she knew it by heart. It seemed always ready to blossom into mirth and very often did, crinkling up appealingly. Mr. Lockley’s eyes were clever and beaming, and his flaxen hair was clipped short. His figure was sturdy and graceful.

Elsie stretched out her hand to the bracken that framed his advancing figure.

“Oh, couldn’t you love me, Mr. Lockley? Couldn’t you?” she whispered fervently.

Mr. Lockley vanished from view. He would soon turn into the road below the other side of the hill and reach his home near town. He lived alone and had never appeared to have any notion of marrying.

Elsie’s head drooped. “You could never love a girl like me. If you did, it would be enough to make this poor old deserted garden live again. If you knew that I watch you every day! I suppose it is better that you don’t know.”

She stood to leave. She never lingered long after Mr. Lockley passed beyond her sight. Then she slipped back down the hill through the firs and into the back garden of the home she shared with her Aunt Wilma.

Aunt Wilma was waiting at the kitchen door when her niece crossed the yard. Elsie regarded the grimly wise face with unease. Never had Aunt Wilma met her when she returned from her vigils or wanderings.

“I s’pose ye’ve gone to see yer schoolmaster again. No, don’t deny it, urchin. I knows you go to that old garden at the top of the hill, and further, that it gives an excellent view of the schoolhouse. My eyes note more’n ye’d think, and I spent my childhood in that garden, when it was in its better days. Don’t have the taste for it now, just like most folks here. But you do. Ye’re in love with the master, Christopher Lockley–or fancy ye are.”

Elsie stepped over a bed of phlox and went past her aunt into the house. “How do you know that, Aunt Wilma, and what does it matter to you?” she inquired coolly.

“What does it matter to me?” Aunt Wilma banged the door behind her in exasperation. “Haven’t I raised ye from an infant after yer folks perished o’ the fever? As to how I know, I’ve seen the way ye look at him when ye pass or meet him. If nothing else, he’s too old for you–thirty-five and you twenty!”

Elsie stood silent under her aunt’s keen eyes.

“”Ye’re languishing, Elsie. Ye aren’t really in love, ye know. The affliction ye’ve got is infatuation. Haven’t ye ever seen folks in love? They trot around beamin’ and singing at their work. But ye’re brooding and restless. Them’s the fruits of infatuation, I tell ye, wandr’ing about like a lost soul! ‘Tain’t healthy. Love of the real sort is healthy; infatuation ’tisn’t. It’ll pass if ye’re patient. Then soon enough ye’ll love a fellow for true. ” She nodded her head wisely, but Elsie firmly shook hers.

“No, Aunt Wilma. I’ve had infatuations before and they were as you say; but this is truly love, and it is only pain because it has no hope of being returned. If it is returned it yields beaming and trotting. If not, it wounds terribly.”

Aunt Wilma pursed her lips and opened them to speak again, but Elsie cut her off.

“Have you ever loved like this, Aunt Wilma?”

“No, thank the Good Man Above, but I’ve seen it enough to know it better’n most folks who have. I’ve never been a fool in that way, so I can be mighty level-headed about it. Anyhow, ye won’t die of a broken heart; ye’ve got the indestructible constitution of the Millers.”

Elsie just smiled sadly in devout thankfulness that no one else knew of her secret ardor and helped Aunt Wilma get supper. During the meal Elsie chatted quite cheerily as usual. But Aunt Wilma saw the anguish in her niece’s face between remarks. “It’ll take time to wear off,” Aunt Wilma thought to herself.

After cleaning up they settled down in the sitting room to read, as was their habit in the quiet evenings. Elsie read listlessly. The books she used to adore all featured heroines whose love was returned. She had no kinship with them.

Aunt Wilma was soon snoring, her book dropped into her lap. No matter what anxiety or stress Wilma Miller might be suffering, she never could read long in the evening without falling soundly asleep. She simply could not help it–and how many fine tales she missed as a consequence thereof! Else, she might have understood her niece a little better.

Elsie stepped over to Aunt Wilma’s chair and gently brushed an iron-gray curl from the old woman’s forehead. Aunt Wilma was well-meaning in her blunt way, but she did not understand.

Elsie paused in the doorway and looked with affection at her aunt, who was worried about her and did truly care. “You needn’t worry,” Elsie whispered. Then she stepped out into the night.

* * *

Christopher Lockley toiled up the long hill, meaning to pause in the dead garden before lessons as he liked to do now and then. He never found anyone, human or bird or beast, there and stood for a time looking down upon Dryden and its rolling countryside. In his lifetime the schoolmaster had not seen the garden in health, but he had often fancied what it must have been like then.

He went through the close bracken and stopped abruptly. He wasn’t in a dead garden at all. Everywhere were clusters of pink, white, and red roses, and the trees were hung with lavender gauze. Robust green vines draped themselves over the walls of bracken, their leaves unfurled. Sheets of lilies covered the moist green grass. The garden was alive with all the missed springs of forty years gracing it.

“At last, it lives,” said Mr. Lockley in astonishment.

His eyes rested on the heart of the garden. The two cherry trees there were white with blossoms. Beneath their arch, on the stone bench, lay a maiden. Thick dew glistened on her fanned brown hair and homespun dress. One of her arms was raised to pillow her head, and her face, in profile, was turned upward to the white blossoms that crowned her resting place. In the morning sun, the alcove was like a glowing pavilion.

“Miss Miller?” Mr. Lockley said in concern, his voice hushed.

When he ventured closer he saw the smallest hint of a smile on Elsie’s lips, but her eyes were closed, hidden beneath her ivory lids. Treading nearer still, the schoolmaster saw that no breath stirred her form.

But all around the bench life was thrilling in the garden once more. Mr. Lockley, gazing enthralled at its delicate glory, thought that it could never have been so lovely as it was this fresh June morning. But the maiden at its heart-! She must have lain there all the previous night, while the bloom crept silently into fulness around her.

Minutes passed while he stood gazing down at her. He had never taken especial notice of her before beyond noting that she was a quiet, studious pupil; but now he could not cease looking at her face. All the wistfulness and timidity in it had vanished, replaced by a natural grace it had never had in life.

Mr. Lockley would never be able to explain it, but he knew, unquestionably, that it was Elsie’s presence alone that had brought the garden back to life at last. He felt some regret that he had not striven to know more of her.

Mr. Lockley gently took the hand that lay on Elsie’s breast. “A sweet life lost,” he murmured.


Laura Chitlon has always loved to write, particularly stories inspired by sentimental fiction and fairy tales.

Floral photography has always been a hobby for Mary Moser. She has been taking pictures for a while now for friends and family and wanted to expand to different venues.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

The Berry Bride
Noeleen Kavanagh

The maids went on and on as they scrubbed and swept the great hall. “It’s out in the wilds.”

“Slieve Capall, such a name.”

“Near the Ardlands.”

“They’re half-savages out there, never set eyes on anything other than bogs and wasteland.”

They all laughed. “No decent clothes.”

“Or fairs.”

I was beginning to regret listening but I knew of no other way to get information about my intended. I had positioned myself on a bench by the open window for that very purpose.

It had only been yesterday when I had first heard. I went straight to my parents’ chamber as instructed. I knelt in front of them on the kneeler with my eyes downcast and waited for them to speak.

It was strange to see them both together, sitting side by side before me on the heavy wooden chairs. The late spring light streamed in through the latticed window, turning the room to gold in patches and setting the dust motes dancing in the air.

“Daughter, we have found a suitable husband for you.”

“Thank you, Lady Mother.”

“The marriage will take place in Summer.”

“Yes, Lady Mother.”

“You may leave now.”

“Yes, Lord Father.”

I should have been pleased. Not every daughter of a minor noble house found a husband. Some were left to dwindle into spinsterhood, a half-life of exclusion and petty tyrannies. I rose and curtsied to both of them in turn and left.

My happiness has never been of any great importance to my parents. But while Blath my nurse was still here, that did not matter so much. I was her pretty, her pet pigeon, her flower, her lovely.
Sometimes when I was small, on Holy Days she would take me to her parents’ house in the Dyers’ Quarter. I sat and played with scraps of dyed cloth while the life of the house went on around me. Sometimes when it was time to go home I cried and begged to be allowed to stay.

I preferred the dyers’ house to my parents’. They were angry when they heard of that. Higher standards are expected of the daughter of a noble house. Or so my parents told me four years’ turns ago when they sent Blath away.

For years’ after that I watched for her in the streets, imagined seeing her walking smiling towards me. I still missed her.

The flood of chatter continued. My upcoming marriage was a great source of entertainment to the maids. “He’s old too. Nearly forty, I heard.”

“No, in his thirties.”

“Old anyway.”

My sister’s husband was in his late fifties, even though she was only twenty when they were married. A fat, red-faced, bad-tempered man.

The two previous negotiations for a husband for me had come to nothing. Mother had aimed high with those two, hoping that the rumours of my beauty would tip the scales. But that was a forlorn hope, as both she and I knew. Only a young man would be influenced by beauty, and young men of noble families did not find their own brides.

The maids continued. I could hear their laughter as they beat the tapestries and rugs. “Not handsome either.”

“Plain as an egg, I heard.”

“A soldier.”

“All rough and scarred.”

I nearly laughed out loud at that. Only maids and the like had the chance to dream of young, smooth-faced men. Tall, brown-eyed men with long lashes, the kind of men poets write of.

I had known since I was a small child that I would be bartered away some day. In any noble family, there was no other purpose for adult daughters. But I had not known that I would be bartered so soon or to a place so very distant.

Linten is a berry that grows on mountain slopes far to the west. It is a small nondescript purple berry, bitter to the taste. However, it dyes cloth a fine, bright shade of blue. Dyers and weavers use it and it commands high prices. My father and his steward were well pleased with their linten contract.

A bride in exchange for a berry.

I have never liked the colour blue; a cold and treacherous colour; one that can easily shift to green, smudge to grey.

*****

All went as I knew it would and I was married off, packed up and sent away.

My new home, Slieve Capall is full of bogs and high peaks, with the limestone bones of the land showing through the thin, acid soil. It is a place of bog cotton and stunted trees, small lakes scooped out of mountainsides, with herons nodding by their sides.

Out here in the wilds, so far from the cities, the noble families are less influenced by the norms of civilised behaviour. My lady mother would say that they lack piety, and even shame.

I was shocked by my new family’s behaviour within days of my arrival. Lady Cettling, my lord husband’s sister, laughed forwardly up in her husband’s face as she dismounted from her horse. Her husband is in thrall to her, his eyes rarely leaving her face. She accepts this as no more than her right.

Their children are fearless. They would horrify my mother. They think nothing of tugging on Lady Cettling’s skirts to gain her attention or wailing at their father to lift me up, lift me up high. It is clear that they have never been beaten enough to break their spirits.

But I was the only person who thought anything of it. My parents-in-law do not chide them, but instead smile fondly at their grandchildren as they race shrieking past, calling on me to admire their spirit and energy.

I would not have thought that people could be like plants, growing so differently depending on where they are. But I now see that this is so.

My lord husband clasps my hand under the table and smiles at me. I smile back.


Noeleen Kavanagh is an Irish writer currently living and working in Shanghai, China. Her publications include short stories in the Silver Blade, Another Realm, Moon Drenched Fables, Aurora Wolf, Swords and Sorcery, Misfit Magazine, Sorcerous Submissions, Fantasy Short Stories, Fiction on the Web, Aoife’s Kiss and the Luna Station Quarterly. She also has short stories in the print anthologies Dream and Screams and A Pint and a Haircut.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Drowning in Light
Drowning in Light
Louie Crew

Flowers
Mike Hancock

“Is Ivey home?”

He stood on the concrete porch, a crack in the middle working its way through like a jagged river cutting through limestone, old beams of oak beginning to rot, curled paint giving up its fight with the oppressive sun. Standing in front of him was Ivey’s mother, Eileen, dressed in a blue bathrobe, a hole from a cigarette burn in the breast pocket. Hair pinned up, tufts jetting out of the top of her head, last night’s mascara running wild.

“Yeah, Calvin, c’mon.”

An old brown couch on the stained carpet of the living room. On it was Eileen’s boyfriend, three days’ growth of beard, arms outstretched in his slumber, mouth partly ajar. His face was an angry red, cutting off in the middle of his forehead where it transformed to a pasty white from wearing ball caps in the sun all day. The house, as always, smelled of stale beer and cigarettes.

“She’s in her room playing with her paintings,” Eileen said, lighting a fresh smoke and waving her hand nonchalantly. “Want something to drink? Got tea, water.”

“Yeah, sure. Tea, thanks.”

He walked to the open kitchen, a small pile of dirty dishes in the sink, the uneven floor straining under his feet.

“Hear you’re going to college next year.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m…”

“Ivey talks about it, you know. Just don’t think we can afford it. Better for her to get a job around here, maybe take a couple of night classes.”

She handed him the glass, her loose robe revealing the top of a rose, faded red and outlined in black, just a couple of petals on her left breast. Calvin wondered how far down the stem extended.

“She goes on about her art, doing that and all. Ain’t no money in it, though. All that fluffy shit. Maybe you can give her some direction, talk her into something else.”

Her door was open, and knowing that she always wore her headphones while she painted, Calvin tried to sneak up on her. He slowed his steps, wincing at the inevitable creaks of the aged wood floor. At the door, he peeked around the corner. Ivey had her back to him, and, sure enough, headphones on, blonde hair spilling down to her back. A canvas of pastel color in front of her, a field, or perhaps just a collage, of flowers: dandelions, daisies, jasmines, lilies, laurels. No roses, though. He smiled.

Entering the room, Calvin slowly stalked her, ran a finger down her arm. She let out a stifled yelp, jerked her head around, wide eyes. Fear. But an expected fear.

“Jesus, Calvin!”

A little taken aback, he searched for words.

“Didn’t think you’d freak out that bad. What, your mom never comes in your room?”

“Yeah, but, I don’t know. Just surprised me, that’s all.”

The color came back to her face. Calvin nodded his head at the painting.

“What do you have there?”

“I call it ‘Memory’, like Minestrini’s, but not of childhood, like his. It’s a memory I’ll have when I’m old.”

“When you’re old? Why not a memory now?”

She dipped her brush into a glass of stained water, carefully mixed colors, leaned closer, added the brush stroke.

“Because I don’t have it yet,” she whispered.

“We’ve seen lots of flowers in the woods.”

“They’re not flowers, Calvin. They’re feelings.”

He nodded his head as though he understood, picturing her as a flower. A beautiful, exotic flower in a field she didn’t belong.

“You mom says you should do something that makes money.”

Walking to her bed, he lay down on his stomach, propped his head under a pillow, studied her. Ivey carefully applied a swath of texture to the contour of a petal, her mouth tight, her brow tense. Calvin’s gaze shifted about the room. An old second-hand dresser, bare, cracked mirror. And then Ivey’s paintings, landscapes mostly. He focused on one, a winding dirt road in the foreground, snaking into the background of a swaying field of grass interrupted by a lodgepole jackleg fence, the gate shut. Beyond, the road shrunk into hazy hills, disappearing through a distant valley. He cleared his throat.

“Hey, I noticed that the gate on…”

“Jesus Christ, I’m up!”

The voice was distinct through the walls. Ivey sighed, dipped her brush into the small jar of water, jiggled it clean.

“Bout time. You need to get your ass out of the house and look for a job,” Eileen said. “Haven’t done shit for a week.”

“Just shut up and give me an aspirin. Head’s pounding.”

“Good. Told you not to open that second bottle.”

Footsteps. Shuffling. Cabinet doors shutting.

“Give me a light.”

Rising from her chair, Ivey quietly walked to the bed, and lay next to Calvin. Her body was warm next to his, fragile. She rested her head on a pillow, peered at him through a veil of blonde hair, her blue eyes delicate. Calvin gestured with his head toward the wall.

“Where did this one come from?”

“The usual,” she said. “At Bleacher’s Bar. He’s been around a couple of weeks. Name’s Steve. Does drywall. Guess the boss ran out of work for him.”

A sharp, pungent odor wafted through the door’s crevices. Although not unpleasant, the marijuana reminded him of last weekend’s party after the ball game, and a hint of naseua began to well up in his stomach.

Inaudible conversation. A sharp banging of glass against wood.

“Look, get off my ass about it. I got bills, too, you know.”

Ivey touched his shoulder, ran her fingers up his neck.

“C’mon. Let’s get out of here,” she said.

In one motion, she jumped out of bed and scurried to the window, deftly unlocked the latch, with a swift motion lifted it up and hopped out. Her face peered at him from outside, cool air spilling in. She smiled.

“What are you waiting for, wienie?”

Calvin awkwardly got his feet over the side, strained to reach the window to close it.

“Steve, get out. Just get the fuck out!”

With a grunt, Calvin shut the window tight, jerked his head around and Ivey was running, wild hair bouncing in the wind, stealing a quick glance back at him. Calvin chased her, the cool breeze on his face, a blunt sting, the aged houses and cracked sidewalks blurring, gelling together and dissipating. She moved effortlessly, bouncing over curbs and weaving through parked cars. He stayed up as best he could with labored breaths, grunting.

The houses around them abruptly ended and the storefronts of downtown began: the hardware store, a women’s apparel chain, a Mexican restaurant. They came to the town center, a square block of a cemented pond, jets of water shooting up in the air through an underwater compressor, concrete steps leading down to the water’s edge. A flock of mallards erupted as they made their way down, Ivey jumped two steps at a time, stopped, sat down, glanced back.

Out of breath, Calvin walked the last few steps, plopped down next to her, stretched his legs, his feet dangling over the foamy water. Ivey sat Indian-style, her hands propping up her head, stared down at the many coins that glimmered off the porcelain of the pool’s surface. Her eyes watched at half-mast, small beads of sweat on her forehead, strands of hair adhered to her skin. She began to laugh, a muted giggle.

“What?” he asked.

A sad smile, slowly shook her head.

“Fuck my life,” she whispered.

Running his fingers through her hair, Calvin gently rubbed the nape of her neck.

“It’ll be okay,” he said, not thinking of anything better. A bead of sweat ran down his cheek, and he swiped it clean.

“Nothing I do is right with her,” she said. “Thing is, nothing she does is right, either. Like she’s blind to that, though. Because anything I say to her is ignored. It’s always gonna be like this, Calvin. Feel like my life is a pre-determined pile of shit.”

The image of his father came, a deep resounding ancient pain.

“She’s not you,” he said.

She folded her arms, gently rocked to and fro.

“She’s not you. She’s not you.”

A single tear dropped down her cheek, spilled onto her leg, snaked its way down, losing energy. She turned and they embraced, Ivey burying her face in his chest, her back quivering, bronze skin warm, smooth. She pulled away, stared up at him. Tracing the outline of her lip with his finger, he leaned in, kissed her softly. Her hand moved up his neck. The sweet warmth of her tongue. She pulled away, gazed up at him.

“I love you, Calvin.”

The words sounded comfortable. Like home.

“I love you, too.”

 
“How far is Lubbock?” Ivey asked.

At the combination pharmacy/ice cream parlor downtown, Ivey looked small sitting in the massive red booth, seemingly swallowing her, dressed in her favorite denim skirt, tan arms propped on the table. She sipped her root beer float, wiped the cream from her lips. Calvin’s usual banana split began to drip; he spooned a mouthful, thinking.

“Don’t know. Four hundred miles, maybe?”

Her forehead furrowed in concentration.

“That’s too far.”

“You’re not locked down here, you know,” he said. “The college has a great arts program, and you could get all kinds of student loans and grants.”

“Where would I live?”

He smiled.

“They have dorms there, too, you dork.”

Ivey twirled the straw around her drink, gingerly sipped. Eyes cast away.

“Listen,” he said. “I know you were talking about junior college here in town. But it would mean another two years of living with your mother.”

Still won’t look at him.

“Don’t you want to get out of here?”

“It’s not that simple, Calvin,” she said suddenly. “I don’t know if she’d do well without me. I’m like her mom. Get her out of bed. Make sure the laundry is done. Weird?”

“Yeah. But I know that’s how it is. When does it end?”

She shifted in her booth.

“I don’t know. When she gets her shit together. If.”

“Ivey,” he said. “You can’t…”

The bell hung by the front door of the parlor jingled. In walked Derek, Matt, Michael. The guys Calvin got drunk with at the party.

“Oh great,” Ivey said under her breath.

Matt was the first to see him, a sly smile appearing. He walked toward them, the rest following. He was still dressed in his pizza delivery uniform, which he did part-time in the evenings.

“Seven o’clock,” Calvin said. “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”

“What’s up, Cal? They let us go early. Who’s this?”

Ivey peered at him.

“I go to school with you, moron,” she said.

They all chuckled.

“So,” Matt said. “Your name is?”

Ivey looked exasperated.

“Seriously?”

She shot Calvin an angry look.

“You didn’t tell them about me, Calvin?”

He didn’t. But not for the reasons he knew she was going to assume. Just didn’t want to share her with anybody. She always seemed…above them. Calvin looked around at the guys for help, but they just gave him a collective bewildered expression, shrugged their shoulders.

“You didn’t,” she said. “You really didn’t.”

Matt smirked.

“Why?” she asked.

Calvin quickly calculated how much grief he would get from the guys if he told her the truth in front of them. Forget them. Just tell her the truth. No. Too embarrassing.

“Don’t know,” Calvin said. “Just never came up.”

She let out a little cry, like a puppy trapped in a hole it can’t crawl out of. Calvin quietly cursed himself. Suddenly, she shoved her half-full root beer float at him, the chilled cream spilling down his shirt, pooling up in his lap. The cold seeped in through his jeans and shirt. The guys were cackling with laughter, curious stares from the people at the counter.

Ivey sat with her head lowered, lips quivering, arms folded.

“On that note, fellas,” Matt said, as the laughs died off.

And they walked out the door.

“Ivey,” Calvin said. “I didn’t mean…”

She picked up a wadded up napkin, hurled it at him, got up from her seat, glaring, turned and quickly left. Calvin watched her through the parlor’s windows, the wind lifting her hair, she looking around, pale, running away.
 

The television was blaring in Mama’s room as Calvin quietly closed the front door, subtle smells of an hours-old supper of pork chops and cabbage in the kitchen, the faint hiss of the gas heater. Walking through the small duplex, he entered his room, shut the door. Gently lifting the window curtain, he gazed at the outline of the side of Ivey’s house a block away, looking unusually peaceful for a Friday night. Usually three or four cars parked in the front, the music audible even at this distance, the voices of Eileen’s friends from the bar rumbling in the undercurrent of the rhythm.

Feeling eyes on him, he shut the curtain and turned to see the door partially ajar, Mama peering in.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“It’s just you usually tell me when you’re home.”

She paused, glanced around the room, Calvin thought she was looking for something to chastise, generally involving cleanliness.

“Everything good with you and Ivey?” she asked.

“Just a little misunderstanding, that’s all.”

Calvin tried to think of something to add to that so she’ll change the subject.

“I’ll talk to her about it tomorrow. It’ll be okay.”

Satisfied, she nodded her head.

“Well, all right. You’re in for the night, right?”

“Yeah. I’m tired.”

“Okay. See you in the morning, sugar.”

 
“Calvin.”

Mama’s voice came at him from far off, through the rhythm of the electric fan in the darkness making its rotation. Not completely dark, though. Through the curtains in his front window, a vague redness flashed, amber, then red.

“Yeah?”

“There’s something going on at Ivey’s house.”

He sighed.

“So what? It’s Friday. Always something going on over there.”

“Think it’s worse this time.”

Fear in her voice.

“Okay. Let’s go outside and see.”

Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, the wind bit his skin. At the end of the block, a paramedic ran around an ambulance, jumped in the driver’s seat, raced past them, lights, siren blaring.

Mama and Calvin walked slowly up the sidewalk, closer to the small crowd of police officers, neighbors. Amidst the shouting and frightened faces, Calvin saw Eileen gesturing wildly to an officer, he scribbling notes as she talked. Sitting on a curb next to a patrol car was Steve, handcuffed, his body unsteady, staring nervously across the lawn at Eileen.

Eileen and Steve. Who the hell was in the ambulance? Where was Ivey? Calvin inhaled the night air, a shiver running down his back. Glanced at his watch. 4:21 a.m. He walked across the street, Mama following, tentative. A handful of neighbors stood in silence, in bathrobes and t-shirts, unkempt hair, lined faces, arms folded, tense. Calvin stood behind them, listened.

Eileen had stopped shouting, her face pale, her mouth moving with quiet words. An officer walked over to Steve and lifted him up. He spoke to Steve, his body swayed, eyes unfocused. Calvin heard the words “under arrest” and Steve was in the back of the patrol car, speeding away. Eileen was escorted to another squad car, got in, left.

He glanced back, his mother behind him, her eyes red from the wind. She turned to Eileen’s next door neighbor, an elderly Hispanic man in a flannel shirt, his black hair disheveled, head down, shaking.

“Jorge, what happened?”

Jorge gave her a timid glance.

“Eileen told the officer she woke in the middle of the night to crying. She found Ivey badly beaten, barely alive.”

Jorge cleared his throat, an apprehensive look at his wife.

“Says that man raped her, and when she fought back…that’s when it happened. The beating. Tal un Ángel, Ivey. Sería matarlo.”

Calvin’s words coming from somewhere else. Like he was talking underwater.

“Hospital. Mama, we have to go to the hospital.”
 

Mama’s face was rigid as she gazed intently at the road ahead. Theirs was the lone car on the street, a light fog settled comfortably above, a gentle mist peppered the windshield, mama reached up every few seconds, flipped the washer on, wiped it clean. Calvin shivered. The heater in the old Cutlass always took its time to blow hot. Hard to breathe. Feel hollow.

She turned onto the road leading up to visitor parking, another turn. Quietly eased the Cutlass into an empty parking lot, killed the engine. She exhaled deeply, turned to him.

“You ready for this?” she asked.

None of it. Ready for none of it.

“Yeah. Let’s go.”

The automatic doorway into the emergency room opened with a swoosh, the crisp, sterile air hitting his face. A few people in the waiting room, grimly thumbing through magazines, sagging faces. He recognized a couple of his neighbors, nodding as they turned their heads. A little girl lay asleep next to her mother, oblivious.

Walking back to the rows of cushioned chairs, they sat in a corner. Lying on an end table were perhaps a dozen magazines, the walls adorned with paintings of idyllic fields. Calvin spotted one, a mosaic of flowers. And he couldn’t hold back. Hiding the tears with his hands, he was doubled over, nauseous. Mama’s hand rested gently on his back.

“Hey, she’s a tough girl. She’ll be okay.”

They sat for a few minutes, Calvin still bent down, hands covering his face. Doesn’t want to think, so he focused on getting rid of the knot welled up in his chest. Focused on breathing. In and out. And then, finally, he did want to say something.

“She thinks I’m ashamed of her.”

He didn’t uncover his face. There was no answer for a few seconds. Then Mama cleared her throat.

“Why would you ever think that?”

So he told her what happened at the ice cream parlor. And then why he said what he said.

“I imagine she’s had to deal with that her whole life,” Mama said. “She just expects it, that’s all.”

“But it’s not her fault.”

“Doesn’t matter. Ivey, I expect, found that out early. Older you get, the more the baggage accumulates. But she was born with it.”

Calvin wiped the dampness away from his cheeks, sat up. The neighbors, Jorge, his wife, and an older couple, were seated across the room from them. Jorge’s wife nervously thumbed through an old issue of Redbook, her house shoes tapping the white tile. Jorge, with his leather jacket on and faded jeans, black boots, had fallen asleep, his mouth partially ajar.

“Wish she could let that go. Not have anything to be embarrassed about.”

“Maybe one day she can,” Mama said. “People have many lives, in a way. This Ivey, maybe, can one day just be somebody she used to be.”

Not really understanding, Calvin just nodded his head. A wave of fatigue swept through him, and he leaned back, closed his eyes. He felt his mother covering him with a jacket.
 

Voices. Calvin stirred, momentarily confused as to where he was. The neighbors, Mama at the admitting counter, their backs to him. Jorge and his wife slowly turned around, left. Mama walked back to him, her head lowered. He wiped his eyes to clear his vision. She got down on her knee in front of him.

“Calvin?”

“How bad is she?”

The color drained from her face.

“Calvin. She’s gone.”

No thought. He rose.

“Gotta go.”

“Where are you going? It’s the middle of the night. C’mon, let me…”

“No. I just have to go.”

Spinning around, he dashed briskly out the door, Mama’s voice trailing after. The night air hit him hard, a thousand tiny needles pricking his face. Calvin picked up his pace, breaking into a jog, then into a run, the wind whipped against his jacket, the fog wet against his hair.

The damp sidewalk a blur beneath his feet, he hopped over curbs, blindly scurried past the streets, the occasional headlights of cars whizzed by. Like everything’s normal. Like nothing has happened. The world, exactly the same as it was before. A grain of anger in him, growing, rising.

Clothes clinging against his wet body, he reached his street, unthinkingly turned and raced toward the bend in the road. Jumping into the grasses, he sprinted toward the creek’s edge, dropped down the embankment, the damp sand engulfed his feet.

The moon’s yellow light glimmered off the sand encasing his ankles, tiny dull sparkles, air motionless, thick. Nothing but the black water’s bumpy, constant flow. Tears welled up, ran jagged down the creases of his mouth. Her hair, moist and clinging to her bronze skin. Calvin reached for her and there was nothing.

Methodically, he scanned the creek floor for rocks, picked out the smoothest, flattest of the stones, chalky white. Six of them then, slippery in his hand. Walking to the water’s edge, his feet sank smoothly in the shallow current, the cold wetness penetrating his shoes. Leaning close to the riffles, he tossed one, spinned it with his index finger, the smooth disc skimmed over the surface, disappeared in a dark vortex at the base of an embedded boulder. And then another, still not far enough. Another. Abandoning this, he let the last three sail higher over the water, lodging in the thick mud on the opposing bank.

He cried out. Let all the sound, all the air, from his body, his voice echoed through the winding bottom. Dropping to his knees, the icy water penetrated his clothes, stung his thighs. His hands ran through the current; he dipped his head in it, rose up, gazed through the timber on the other side. Flowers, he thought. Maybe at first light, I’ll hike to the meadow behind the old lean-to and pick some flowers for Ivey. All colors, all kinds. The world for her.

They’re not flowers, Calvin. They’re feelings.


Mike Hancock is a former hunting guide and commercial fisherman. He spent seven years guiding elk, deer, and bear hunters in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and New Mexico. Prior to that he was a deckhand for two seasons aboard a factory trawler in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Now living in Wewoka, Oklahoma, he is an Adjunct Professor of English and a
freelance writer. He holds a B.A. in English Literature and a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University.

“Flowers” is an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, “Fallen.” This is a story of fathers and sons and of emotional bonds that transcend culture and time. Set in the looming mountains of Northwest Montana in 1870 and 1997, the novel chronicles the lives of Grey Bear, a distraught Piegan warrior in the aftermath of the Marias Massacre, and Calvin, a tortured young hunting guide, as they endure hardships and abuse, both seeking redemption in an untamed wilderness.

Louie Crew is an emeritus professor at Rutgers. Editors have published 2,226 of his manuscripts. His photography has appeared in recent issues of Rose Red Review, Meadowland Review, and The Living Church.