Volume 1 Issue 25: On This Day…

Image result for stack of newspapers

What happened in the world on this day in the year you were born? That was what we were tasked with finding out this week, a rather overwhelming prompt, as I have been told. Even I could not narrow it down in time but did find many possible future stories (to add to my teetering stack of possible future stories).

This week we have two very interesting tales from different points of time and space by Kelli J. Gavin and Sunil Sharma. Reading these two stories connects us to the past while reminding us that some stories never change, simply change characters. Please enjoy some time traveling and be sure to come back again on Monday for our next round of writing and reading.


Cries For Freedom
Kelli J Gavin

Cries for freedom are only sometimes heard
Mostly ignored and trampled on
Turning the Bantu’s into slaves
An easy choice for early traders
Traded as slaves for centuries
The Bantu people continued their cries

Cries for freedom are only sometimes heard
Mostly ignored and trampled on
Ruled by countries they would never see
Fearful of losing all they had ever known
Speaking a language not their own
Their cries never ceased

Cries for freedom are only sometimes heard
Mostly ignored and trampled on
The Liberation Front fought long and hard
Independence gained not a moment too soon
Mondlane and Machel had a vision
Of a country ruled by its people

Cries for FREEDOM are only sometimes heard
Mozambique no longer ignored and trampled on

June 25, 1975

 


Bio-
Kelli J Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company.  Look for Kelli’s first book of short stories and poems in 2019. You can find her work with The Ugly Writers, Sweatpants & Coffee, Writing In a Woman’s Voice, The Writers Newsletter, Writers Unite!, Academy of the Heart and Mind, The Rye Whiskey Review, Spillwords, Mercurial Stories, 121 Words, HerStry, Ariel Chart, The Basil O’Flaherty, PPP Ezine, Southwest Media, Otherwise Engaged, Pleather Skin, Paper.Li, The New Ink Review, among others.
Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin

Blog found at kellijgavin@blogspot.com



Lessons
Sunil Sharma

He wanted to be part of history—before becoming history.

But history is not kind: It favours only few individuals and hates the masses—the first lesson delivered by his high-school teacher that resonated so well.

Initially, he had felt cheated. Father had always insisted that it was possible to rise up in society—even for a lower-middle-class, small-town, ordinary guy, in a vibrant democracy!

Soon, he realized, he was bypassed. Grim realities caught on —lost father; dropped out; became a sales-person in a shoe shop to support a large family.

Hardly 19 at that time!

Life—raw, prosaic and brutal! Dreams belonged to another age and class.

The man who wanted to be the king became pauper, instead.

He wrote in the diary.

Selling shoes to customers was a daily challenge. Surviving on a meager salary was another existential battle.

Democracy and its promise of deliverance—a plain lie!

An epiphany recorded as a diary-entry.

.

When he turned 25 on March 25, 2018— a marginal man and doomed to be that only—somebody suggested the second best option of entering the annals—by checking the famous people or events, on that date.

Cool!

If not a general or emperor, he could bask in the reflected glory of the great.

Inder Kumar was curious to know what happened on his birthday.

After going through many such sites on his smart phone, Inder Kumar, a lean man with a perpetual hungry look, embarked on a journey backwards in time and found few incidents as most exciting, on that hot Sunday afternoon, propped up against the stacks of shoes, re-visiting memorable incidents.

.

Here, the selection:

—1199

King Richard, the Lion Heart, killed.

.

—1965

The Third Selma to Montgomery March.

.

—1811

PB Shelley rusticated from the Oxford for his easy on atheism!

.

—1957

“Howl” by Ginsberg banned!

.

—1911

The fire in Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, New York, kills 146.
.

They met in the late night.

—What did you fish out from the dustbin of history? Asked his friend Raju.

—Some fascinating facts. Said Inder.

—What kind of facts? Asked Raju.

—Random things.  Made few internal connections between these occurrences separated by time and space, yet linked together, in an odd way.

—Tell me these discoveries made by a bright man, denied his greatness.

Raju did not sound sarcastic.

Inder recited the list of items culled from the belly of the past and offered his observations: That a king could be killed by a boy who is a commoner. People power can shake the well-entrenched system through a long march. Oxford and courts can ban writers on stupid reasons and continue to treat thinkers, as threats. That the poorly-paid workers can die in an inferno in an advanced democracy. Considered garbage by the capital! Yet, these disenfranchised guys made history in a modest way!

—Hmm!

—Alternative reading of events only!

——————————–

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:

 http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/



 

Volume 1 Issue 24: The Last

It has been a long two weeks. Crazy all that can happen within, what, twelve days. On the upside, these fantastic stories also show what is possible within the confines of 264 hours. With the world changing at the current breakneck speed, extinction is a regular occurrence, whether it be the extinction of a philosophy, a habit, or a species, many ways of life, of thinking are coming to an end. The stories this week take the time to pause and shine a spotlight on what it is like to be the last, whether it be a dragon or cupcake, the last to love or the last to see.

Please enjoy this week’s excellent collection from Linda M. Crate, Kelli J. Gavin, Sunil Sharma, and Katharine Brown.  



 

Child of the Dragon
Linda M. Crate

The night was clear and warm with a sky full of stars and a white moon so bright that she was blinding. It was a comfortable night which most were marveling at in the kingdom, but he could not agree with this night.
The world was far from beautiful.
He was the last dragon.
His father had told him that he should settle down and marry a lovely female dragon, and have a family of his own. His father warned there were two few dragons in this kingdom, and that perhaps there would come an end to their time. He had not heeded his father’s warning thinking that his father had been silly, and he had plenty of time to find a wife and family. Now he was the last dragon!
A tear slid down from his obsidian eyes onto his golden scales. He was the last dragon, there were no more and there never would be again. What would his legacy be, that he was too stupid to procreate and thus brought the end of his species? He turned away from the light in his cave, and glanced into the dark and lonely darkness before him. He wondered if he could find a way to be happy?
He was the last dragon, but that didn’t mean he was the last creature on earth. So he used his reserves of magic and fashioned himself into an elf. He was tall and beautiful, he thought, as he looked into the pool of water. His skin was a soft white song like that of clouds, his hair was golden, and his eyes were an obsidian night without moon or stars. They glittered like black opals in his face, and he found that to be quite lovely.
His mother had used to hoard gems before the humans killed her for them when he had been but a young dragon. He and his father had been away collecting water for the rest of the pack of dragons, but when they returned his mother and sisters were dead.
His father became withdrawn, quiet, and rather moody after that. Abraxton didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps. He may be the last dragon, but that didn’t mean he had to be alone forever. He was going to make the most of his life whilst he still could.
Walking into his cave he found clothing that had been discarded from a previous victim foolish enough to think he would slay the last dragon. Perhaps, he had thought the prestige would earn him a spot in the king’s court or win the favor of the princess or something.
Abraxton climbed down from his cave and into the crowd of people that were scurrying about below. Faeries, elves, and humans walked past him without suspicion or even notice.
He raised his brows. Well, then. Maybe there was nothing extraordinary about his appearance as an elf, after all.
But then a woman with dark brown hair and soft hazel eyes spotted him, seemingly smitten. “I’ve never seen you around the kingdom before,” she remarked. “Who are you?”
“I am Abraxton.”
“Like the dragon?”
It was then that he realized his folly, but it was too late to amend what he had said. He turned away. “I am the dragon.”
“You are—oh?! Are you really? I’m Princess Lovina.”
“A princess without her crown or guard at this hour?”
“What can I say? I prefer to be alone, sometimes. Having too many people around can be suffocating. I think you might understand that?”
“Aye, humans can be exhausting. But I am the last dragon. I yearn for more of my kind. Yet that will never be thanks to my stupidity. My father always told me that I should settle down and get married, I never listened. I always thought I had more than enough time.”
Lovina listened to him with a sympathetic look on her face. “You wouldn’t be the first to feel that way or make that mistake. Look at the poor dodos. They weren’t able to save themselves from falling, either.” She placed a hand on his arm. “But you can still live a happy life.”
“Do you think?” he asked.
“I do,” Lovina nodded.
The two became fast friends and spent many evenings together. Abraxton was always in his elven form, however, not wishing to attract suspicion or his own death. After several months, however, things between them had gotten pretty serious and they both had fallen for one another.
“Abraxton?”
“Hmm?”
“Should we have children would they be…”
“Nay. They’ll take after this elven form I fashioned for myself or you, I suspect,” he answered. “They may have the ability to turn into dragons, but they’ll never fully be dragons.”
Lovina nodded. “I still want children someday,” she insisted.
“With me? Knowing what I truly am?”
“Of course.”
“You don’t think me a monster?”
“If I did, would I still be here?”
“I doubt the king would let his daughter marry someone who has no proof of his life. Among the elves they would say that I were an enigma. I cannot piece together a history that would make sense to your father.”
“I don’t much care about all of that. I only care about you.”
“I care about your future,” Abraxton protested.
“It will be with you,” Lovina insisted. She placed a hand on her belly. “And we’ll know if he or she is a dragon in nine months time, I suspect.”
Abraxton blushed furiously. “I didn’t realize that this had happened already,” he remarked, looking at her side, but he heard the second heartbeat clear as day now that she mentioned it. “I think we should always be together, it is what I want, but I fear your father’s answer.”
“Don’t,” Lovina said. “We make our own destinies. Mine is with you. I don’t care what father says.”
Abraxton smiled softly. “If you insist,” he remarked. “And I will always take care of you both.”


 

All Five Senses
Kelli J Gavin

When I attempt to explain how it feels to be me, few understand. Actually, no one. The heft, the weight of my burden is more than anyone will ever experience.  I don’t expect others to understand me or what it feels like, and I am afraid I have stopped trying to impress on them the difficulty I face daily. I no longer attempt to even drop hints that I can see them. That I can see them and they can’t see me.  To be the last one left with vision is no longer amazing. It is so very heartbreaking.

Yes.  Possessing all five senses is an actual gift, and I am fully aware that others wish they could be me.  But to be the only one that has functioning eyes? I still do not understand how it is possible. I had intraocular lenses placed in my eyes in my late thirties when cataracts and glaucoma threatened my vision.  For some reason, the plastic lenses protected me from losing my vision when the ocular virus started to spread. When I turned on the news and heard about the thousands of a people a day that would lose their sight instantly, I gasped as I believed that it was only a matter of time and I would face the same fate.  That fate wasn’t mine. Every person I saw, every person I came into contact with, every person I love, lost their sight. And I visually witnessed it all. I never came to understand why there was an viral outbreak and why I was the only one immune to the globe crossing ocular virus. Now I believe, some things are better left unknown.

I would sit, silently, watching. Everyone who walked by me on the street would nervously pass me. Can she see? Should we ask for help?  I was able to tell that they could sense my physical presence even when they could not see me. I had free reign of the grocery store until the food trucks stopped coming to town. No one stands in line for food when you can’t find where the lines are even being formed. People, desperate people, stumbling trying to find someone who can help, someone who can direct them to food and water. I was wounded severely once when I thought I could be the one to help a group of moms with young children.  They clamored at me, reaching, grabbing, wanting my attention, wanting my help instantly. Bruised and bleeding as if I had been in an alley attack, I limped back home. I couldn’t admit to someone I could see. If I did, I would be risking my own life. I had the one thing everyone in the world needed. The ability to see.

When the phones, televisions and Internet stopped working, it was one thing. But eventually radio silence.  Those that had the manual capability to reach out by transistor radio eventually stopped doing so also. Did they give up hope?  Did the depression hit so quickly that they no longer saw a purpose in creating and fostering human connections? When staying home, in self confined jails became too much to fathom, the loss of life was no longer measurable.  No one had the physical means after a month to even attempt to tend to the dead. So there they lay. Where they decided their life would end. Floating in the rivers. Rotting in their homes. Stretched out if napping on the stairs of the church where they once went to Worship on Sundays.

I knew that I needed to flee. I would risk my mental stability by living alone, rather than my physical life by staying where everyone would eventually want to take advantage of the most horrible gift anyone could possess.  The gift of sight on a non seeing planet wasn’t a gift but a torment. I had every book at my disposal. I read and made notes and tore out page after page from the books left abandoned at the library. I would teach myself to grow food. To hunt. To build anything I would need.  To possibly figure out if I was capable to create energy which could be turned into electricity which could be turned into light. I gathered batteries. I gathered wires, I gathered seeds and containers for water. I made time lines and plans as to what I would need to accomplish and when. My plans were foiled when sickness took hold.  Maybe pneumonia. I am not really sure. I was about a week away from preparing to leave town when I was racked with severe coughing. There wasn’t a doctor that I could see, and I wouldn’t even know if there were medications nearby that I could get my hands on.

So here I lie. In my bed.  Dozing. In and out of consciousness.  This has taken me two days to write this down. Not sure who I am writing it down for. I know this sickness will end me.  If this notebook is found, who will be able to see it? Who would read the words on this page and be so flabbergasted at the fact that I am the last person with sight? No, someone will find it by searching with their hands for anything that is useful. This notebook will turn into paper to fuel a fire. Fire to keep someone warm. Until they decide that the church stairs seem like a mighty fine place to…


Bio-
Kelli J Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company.  Look for Kelli’s first book of short stories and poems in 2019. You can find her work with The Ugly Writers, Sweatpants & Coffee, Writing In a Woman’s Voice, The Writers Newsletter, Writers Unite!, Academy of the Heart and Mind, The Rye Whiskey Review, Spillwords, Mercurial Stories, 121 Words, HerStry, Ariel Chart, The Basil O’Flaherty, PPP Ezine, Southwest Media, Otherwise Engaged, Pleather Skin, Paper.Li, The New Ink Review, among others.                                                                                                                                                                    Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin

Blog found at kellijgavin@blogspot.com



 

The Last Romantic
Sunil Sharma

As soon as he rushed into the compartment, breathless and disoriented, the train began moving across Vienna that looked different: A certain melancholia that attends the intersection of dusk and an advancing night.

Evening: In-between space characterized by a sublime mix of mellow darkness and dying light— divine works in chiaroscuro.

Forlorn and lost.

From the window- seat, he could feel the overpowering sadness of the hour. The offices were getting empty and streets filled up—fast.

Close!

Few seconds late and he would have missed the connection to Paris!

Once settled, he found her opposite.

Their eyes met and diverted—at the same time.

What quickly registered were a freckled face; the goggles on a disheveled head and an aloofness, typical of the solo female tourists.

That demeanor, oddly, was fascinating!

There were others. An Italian family—boisterous, chatty, loud—reminded of his family. The remaining travellers were on another planet—plugged into phones or lap tops.

He took out the book.

—Ayn Rand?

He looked up—into the smiling eyes of his co-passenger.

—Do you take Middle Eastern males to be savages?

She replied: No offense, please. Just curious.

The lilting tone soothed.

—Fine. No offense, either.

They relaxed.

—I am Anne. Freelance travel writer. Boston.

—David here. Manager. Berlin.

The strangers shook hands. Train hurtled down.

—Travelling Paris? She asked.

—Yes. You? He asked for the sake of conversation.

—Yes. Doing a piece on Paris and Multi-cultural Perspectives.

—Cool!

—Your first visit?

—No. Come often. You?

— I, too, keep on returning. Paris beckons as a besotted lover. You cannot resist Paris.

He nodded.

She continued: Ayn Rand in the summer of 2018 is a revelation…

—That too in the hands of an Arab.

She smiled: Not that implication. Ayn Rand is not that popular these days but some iconic books have an amazing afterlife. And ways of turning up in strange places!

—Right. Once I saw Ibsen in an Indonesian village—in an old paper shop.

—Yes. I once saw Thoreau in a Shanghai house of a factory worker, dreaming of a passage to America.

—Globalization! He exclaimed.

—Migration and its sources of inspiration. She observed.

—In a way, border-less world, ideas travel faster and we develop standardized tastes.

—Yeah. We are all Potter fans. Believers in magic. Fantasy sells.

He nodded: Yes. Books can change beliefs.

—So does travel.

They talked best-sellers and movies and found a lot in common.

—Travel often? He asked.

—Yes.

—Escaping America.

—Hmm! Maybe. She said.

—Or searching for the nirvana?

—Perhaps. You? Searching the Exotic Paris?

He smiled: Searching for the soul of the city that once hosted Joyce and Proust.

She was floored: You are highly cultivated!

—A dark prince! A Moor?

She won his heart by that dimpled smile!

.

They reached Paris late as the train got held up due to some technical problem. Decided to spend more time together by exploring the nightly life. Crowds everywhere. The sidewalk cafes were full. They drank the best wine, ate dinner and leisurely walked down the river-front, enjoying the breeze and the spectacular scene. The Seine reflected the lights. Every nationality could be seen there on the boulevards.

Another world!

Paris, the truly cosmopolitan!

—Certain things are fated. David said, holding her hands, on the bench, near a bridge.

—Indeed. Never thought I would have you as a companion!

He smiled: Frankly, I took you for a snobbish Yankee.

She was equally frank: I took you for a boorish Moor.

They both laughed.

—We have destroyed the power of stereotypes. Said David.

—Thanks to Ayn Rand and Paris. Anne said and added: Paris can cast spell on folks belonging to different cultures and make strangers into friends. Paris is heavenly!

—Yes. The cities can be mysterious. Deep South, such things are not possible. David said.

After a long silence, David said: There are strong coincidences. I cannot believe such things happening. But here we are—the Moor and his princess, in this city of love and romance, on a pleasant night, along a beautiful river. This is magical!

Yes. Anne said, in Paris only, odd things can happen. The city has its own enchantment and can dissolve barriers. This mood can be best summed up by the immortal Rumi: This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.

David went lyrical:

For you, in my respect, are all the world.
Then how can it be said I am alone
When all the world is here to look on me?

Anne said; Indeed! A midsummer night’s dream coming true for us, the ones chosen by Cupid on this lovely night. So bizarre, yet true. Fated, perhaps.

David beamed. I am a hard-core Romantic, last of the tribe.

—Yes, you are. Anne confirmed.

They began walking towards the shadows.

Then it happened.

The cops swooped down and arrested David who did not offer any resistance. Took him in an unmarked van. No witnesses.

.

Next morning, David was the national headline:

Top Terrorist Arrested

Paris: According to the police, the dreaded terrorist Abu Hassan has been captured. Called the Lone Bomber, he has successfully evaded arrest by assuming identities. Going by many aliases, Abu—a chemical engineer—has been on the move across the EU, the recent one being David. He is part of a fringe group that targets Western installations by planting bombs. He is the most deadly bomber, working solo, responsible for some lethal attacks in recent history. The cops are further investigating his role in other bombings. The main role in the operation was played by an undercover female agent by the name of Anne.


Author-bio:

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:

 http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/



 

I’m the Last
Katherine Brown

Look to the right, the long glass surface sits empty. To the left, my view is the same – vacant space accompanies me. Such a terrible feeling of sadness overwhelms me. Alone. Unwanted. Plain, dull, monochrome, of no interest to anyone. Not long ago, I had made a long journey surrounded by friends, family even. We had been assigned an incredibly important task. It was a sacrificial mission, but one of the most honorable and joyous kind. Our kind were born to die and we accepted that, looking forward to fulfilling our purpose for the good of others.

Had it truly been only this morning I had been brought forth in a dizzying whirlwind of activity? Given a post of honor behind the brightly lit glass walls? Chosen with eleven others to venture forth into the world from the safety of our glass abode. Oh! How long ago and far away the keen sense of excitement and adventure feel now.

The client came in wringing her hands, anxiety pinging in her high-pitched voice. Special. “They have to be special, and all different” she insisted to the man in charge of our fates.

And let me tell you just how glorious it was to be numbered among the special, to be packed tightly into the transportation box and bid farewell by all those left behind with faces pressed to the glass enviously. Pride welled up within me. You could practically smell the joy wafting from my warm insides.

It was a lengthy and jarring ride to our destination. I’ll admit a bump to my head caused me more than a little distress, leaving a mark. At last we arrived and were released from the confines of transport. Placed strategically, like sentinels on watch for the slightest sign of trouble, we began the wait for our end. One by one it happened: a painfully shy girl grabbed onto Red like a lifeline, an older woman snatched up Lemon like an old friend, Chip was hastily sent to rescue an upset toddler. On and on they went, but not me. Nobody sought me out though I waited patiently.

I held onto hope for as long as I could, but I grew tired and stiff. Beads of perspiration soon trickled down my head. It became abundantly clear – a mistake had been made. I was not special. I should not have been sent to this place.

I suppose, as you’ve been kind enough to listen to my woes, I should introduce myself to you. My friends, when they were here, called me Nilla. It is short for my given title, Vanilla Bean. I am a cupcake. The last cupcake. The last cupcake at a child’s birthday party. The only cupcake not sprinkled or colored or flavored enough to fulfill my purpose and bring joy. I am Nilla, and I am afraid. I don’t know what happens from here.

They are dimming the lights now. Several of the lowly bars and dips around me are being scraped, most painfully it appears, into large black bags. I can’t imagine transport in those would be at all safe or comfortable. Will they send me there too? No. No they have passed by my post. Suddenly, a small scrap of a girl in a pink tutu comes tiptoeing towards me. She glances around, then scoops me up and whispers around a giant grin, “Shhh, you’re going to be my little secret.” Then, she twirls in a circle and off we race from the room.

I am Nilla. I held my ground. I am the last cupcake. I am a secret prize.


Bio:

Katherine Brown lives with her husband and step-daughter in Texas. A passion for books from the time she started reading led Katherine to dream of writing books and opening up a brand-new world for others as well. As a teen, Katherine discovered a new joy in composing poetry. Publishing her first two children’s books in 2017, Katherine hopes to continue writing long into her future and to inspire in others a love of reading for years to come.

www.katherinebrownbooks.com

https://www.facebook.com/Katherine-Brown-Katie-Author-1007999836006370/



Volume 1 Issue 19: Summer Nights

Hello there.

Summer nights. That term brings up vivid images, memories, and associations in our collective imagination. And yet in this week’s collection, we have four stories that diverge from the traditional and present what might be the true nature of a summer night: the unexpected twists and climaxes that seem only possible in summer, when our inhibitions melt away.

The four stories were written by returning contributors Deb Felio, Sunil Sharma, Tim Clark, and myself. I hope you enjoy reading them.


City Night Lights
Deb Felio
 
Zombies in town – they’ll walk right past
no one’s slept since April last.
 
4 little hours is all there is
between dark and light
in Anchorage.
 
Summer time and the sleeping’s
not easy
most folks stumbling –
feeling queasy.
 
Tempers are short – just like the nights
and no one cares about
those Northern Lights.
 
Pull those shades, darken the room
your body still thinks
it’s only noon.
 
Really, Las Vegas has nothing to boast
no one sleeps here either –
this city of ghosts.
 
Summer nights – a mystery –
Zombies in town
and that includes me!
——————————————————————————
About the author:
deb  y felio is a witness poet and essayist writing the underside or other side of historical and current issues. She is published in various online journals and will be in two anthologies to be released Fall 2018. She enjoys the opportunity to share some humor as a diversion from her more serious topics, believing laughter really is good medicine. She lives and writes in Boulder CO, USA.

A summer night and butterflies
Sunil Sharma

 

That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear
.
—Shakespeare

Summer nights are magical. This being one. That familiar smell: Raat Rani!

Startled, he becomes fully awake. No Queen of Night in the Mumbai home!

Odd! The fragrance lingers strongly… triggering a sensation.

A crevice opens up:

…Ma grew the night-blooming jasmine that rendered long summer nights aromatic. He would fall asleep by the scent wafting up to the roof where the family slept, watching the moon-uncle and the stars, the divine bodies so near, yet so far; the experience, almost other-worldly.

father talking of fairies, Puck, enchanted forest… to a pale and diffident kid…with a stammer and low self-esteem; a dreamer, academically poor during those magical hot nights under a North Indian sky; often, in the distance, thunder and light, creating regions fantasticnow lost forever.

Restive, he gets up and throws open the windows on the smoggy city.

Urban sounds rush in.

…a long train-whistle: Instantly, taking him back to a provincial town. Elder brother leaving for an army post in Kashmir; a tearful good-bye…the dreadful news…killed in action…

Something died that day along with the martyr.

Subsequently, he left for Mumbai and forgot the delightful summers that kept them awake as a family and enjoy the bounties of sky and earth. Folks talking into mid-night, lying down on the stringed cots, fanned by a hot breeze, contented, simple, un-complaining, working very hard, believing in a just God. Cool mornings would come as a pleasant surprise.

The whole neighbourhood slept in the open—the way passengers still sleep on the platform of a railway terminus, long lines of people with hands and legs tucked in, like packed statues—a community of underdogs united by adversity and finer values and empathy.

They were all one extended family—localities, communities and cities—all one. That innocence is lost in 2018.

As the night advances, he hears other sounds— The Nepali cook stir-frying noodles in the corner joint; the thud-thud amplified by the comparative quiet of street, getting emptier.

Crescendo of harsh decibels: ear-splitting horns; strays barking madly; a siren in a distant alley; somebody talking loudly on phone.

As the silvery light brightens the jagged skyline, he remembers another sepia-tinted scene, from a different age.

The catching of fireflies on the special summer nights—an interesting activity:

…they would go with nets and jars. The gloom would be illuminated by these fascinating creatures. A strange glow in the dark fields; dots punctuating the sheet of liquid blackness. Kids and adults catching the moths in jars and nets in fields and forests. The nightly expedition, liberating, exhilarating, giving a high; an encounter with nature outdoors, so re-vitalizing!

As Raghav, the busy screen-play writer, stares at the unwinding streets, he smiles at the childhood and early youth coming back and reviving the clogged arteries and innards, due to heavy schedule.

I wish I could chase butterflies in Mumbai, every summer night!

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Author-bio:

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:

http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/



Saved by a summer night

Tim Clark

The sun had been burning across the day with a ferocious anger, burning bright and unforgiving. It had traversed the world as far as we knew it from east to west leaving people tired, mean and vengeful.

“Can I get a large unsweetened tea with extra ice?” The man asked with an edge to his voice. He glared with unconcealed contempt at me, looking over the top of his square, wire rimmed glasses. Resting on his jet black, curly hair was a pair of sunglasses. Together the temples from both pairs pushed the tops of ears out making them look misshapen and comical.

I thought he looked ridiculous. His sleeveless shirt had broad stripes of red and blue running in circles around his chest and mid-section and his left carried a tattoo of a pirate.

I thought “screw that guy” and hardly gave him any ice and added sugar to his tea.

He took one drink and exploded, throwing the cup at my head. I ducked and it hit a display filled with sugary fruit pastries.

As he scrambled over the counter I grabbed the basket from the fryer and swung it as hard as I could. Unfortunately he stumbled and fell. With nothing to stop my momentum I twisted all the way around knocking the cash register off the counter.

It landed with a terrifying crash just inches from his foot. There was an explosion of small change and coins rolled and skidded everywhere. The pennies caused him to slip as he lunged viciously toward me and it was more of a sloppy embrace between distant, drunken cousins at a reunion than the painful body check he had planned.

Some loose coins and what small amount ice there was from his sweetened tea undermined my footing and we squirmed, and twisted past the soft serve machine, the counter where orders landed as they were finished and past the startled, staring drive through attendant. She stepped aside and watched us roll out the small window through which cars were served.

With a thud we landed on the roof of a small black Chevy with aluminum wheels, power windows and red stripes. Rolling down the windshield we left a large dent in the hood and tore off the antenna and one of the windshield wipers. The owner leaped out and began smashing us both with her purse as we rolled across the parking lot toward the highway.

It looked like the whole thing was going to go terribly wrong. Then the sun dropped behind the horizon. A cool breeze with a slight hint of ocean salt and pine forests rolled gently across us. A small shower passed over and we stopped. Our faces were inches from each other and we were only a few feet from the roaring traffic of Highway 61.

“You know, sweetened tea isn’t so bad.” He said, standing, reaching down to help me up.

“The next one is on me.” I replied.


Summer Festival 
Tiffany Key (who was rather inebriated when writing this)

The frog danced with the toad. All the lesser goblins wore masks to hide their shame. The bonfire flames rose higher, licking the lower limbs of pine trees. The ghouls and gods sat on their pedestals off to one side, pouring each other sake and feeling smug. Round and round the dancers went, circling the fire that was hotter on this summer’s eve than the midday sun. In between the dancers’ legs dashed nine-tailed foxes and racoon-dogs shifting into naked men, human men who would have been killed had they stumbled upon their party. Luckily they still smelled like racoon-dogs which meant the lion-dogs standing guard did not mistake them, even if they were disgusted by the sight. Sparks shot high and fell onto the straw roof of the makeshift pavilion but the ogre just reached over and tossed the smoldering mess onto the bonfire, not minding the little demons trapped inside, knowing that they would escape the heat as little dark snakes until they were safe and regained their shape. Round and round the dancers went, drunk from gold-flaked sake, drunk from the merriment of being hot and together, drunk from Mars and Venus and the full yellow moon hanging sultry and plump in the indigo sky.

And I, who sat in the boughs of my favorite camphor tree, had I been spied I would have been torn apart and shared amongst the party, for a six-year-old girl made for tasty morsels. Perhaps I would have begged for mercy, would have sworn that I would not tell anyone of their annual gathering. I would have been honest because I did not need to tell anyone, the whole village already knew of their private forest festival. Tattling would have only made trouble for me as I had been told over and over to stay away from the woods after nightfall. But who can resist the red lanterns, the laughter of friends and enemies reunited, the sake making them forget their old grievances, the drum pounding, the shamisen played by a faceless woman in twelve layers of kimono like royalty, not seeming to mind the heat that made sweat roll down my forehead, stinging my eyes?

All around me fireflies blinked, the rhythm of their flashing signals lulling me to sleep. In the morning when my mother and grandfather found me, unharmed and sound asleep in the shrine’s sprawling tree, they decided to leave me there so I could find my own way home.
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About the author:

Tiffany Key is a linguistic navigator and amateur anthropologist who lives in a decent-sized closet with four fierce contenders near a shallow sea. Her work as appears and disappears here and there. She records cognitive flights of fancy at:

saishowagu.wordpress.com


 

Volume 1 Issue 18: Starting Over

Hello and welcome to Week 18, Starting Over. This week we have stories from five writers (well, and my own as well, so six): Matt J. McGee, Tim Clark, Linda M. Crate, Deb Felio, and Sunil Sharma. Each story includes the prompt in a unique and compelling way, making this revival collection a really splendid set. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

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WEDNESDAY NIGHT CHICKEN
Matt J. McGee

“Can you imagine you and me married?”

It would’ve been a perfectly reasonable question coming from a fiancée, or a girlfriend, or at least a friend, none of which I have right now.

But this slim blonde woman, alone at a nearby table in the Jack in the Box, her hair pulled back in a tight single braid and her figure wrapped in a light cotton jumper, apparently decided to go out of the house this evening with the intent of popping the question. It had been a hot day, the kind people go crazy on. I took that into consideration.

“Sure,” I smile. “Does that mean I get half your stuff when it doesn’t work out?”

The smile beneath her beautifully high cheekbones didn’t fade. “Alright by me. I don’t have anything so you wouldn’t be getting much. So where are we getting married?”

I dumped my trash in the can and slid the tray on the top rack. “If we leave for the airport now, we can get an Elvis impersonator in Vegas by six.” I walked near her table and held out a hand. She didn’t take it right away.

“You’re not half bad-looking,” she said. “What a shame you have no taste in romance.”

“I’m as romantic as the next guy.”

She smiled. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“I ended a bad relationship recently,” I say, thinking if six years ago counts as recent. “Maybe this will help me get over that hump.”

She smiled. Her head shook lightly. “Thanks. I don’t want to be anyone’s slumpbuster.”

“Say it that way it makes me sound desperate.”

“No offense but you did just accept a proposal from a random stranger in Jack in the Box.”

I rolled my eyes. ‘Didn’t you ever see Rebel Without a Cause? I’m James Dean staring down death and jumping out of the car at just the right moment.”

“Didn’t he end up dying when his coat got hooked on the door handle?”

“Nah, that was the other guy.”

We stood in silence a few moments. I still had a smile on my face. She finally looked up, smiled back, then shook her head lightly again. I shrugged.

I took my drink and turned for the door. “What a shame. I was just starting to like the idea of starting over again with another total stranger.”

My car still had all its ambient heat from the day’s sun. She waited until I was pulling away to get in her own car: a brand new Nissan. I thought: Nothing valuable, huh? See? Not even married yet, and already we’re lying to each other.

 

MATT McGEE writes short fiction in the Los Angeles area. In 2018, his stories ‘A Day in the Life of a Favor Saver’ and ‘Schneider’s Last Stand’ appeared in Grey Wolfe Press’ ‘Legends’ anthology, ‘The Flaming Tadpoles’ will appear in the UK-based ‘Painted Words’ anthology in July and his first romance novel ‘Wildwood Mountain’ was released June 19th. When not typing he drives around in a vintage Mazda and plays goalie in local hockey leagues.
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Starting Time
Tim Clark

As a child you are taught the importance of the accurate measurement of time. The big hand, the little hand, the fast moving, long, skinny hand that they seemed reluctant  to explain, all described in glorious, Gregorian detail. Time is everything, and if you didn’t believe that try showing up late for 1st grade class. Time was a tool to provide the gauge of just how awful you were.

Time, it was said, was a constant, unchanging motion, or fixture, or state of decay, despite being absolutely distinct from any method used to measure its passage. Sixty seconds would always be one minute, and 3,600 of them an hour. The people who always lectured the most on the passage of time didn’t want to answer a lot of questions about it. And they hated the really difficult questions; “why is this taking so long?”  “When will this be over?” Those were the kind of things that got you sent to the Principal’s office, where time took forever.

But, you never really understood time until you got a job. Once you are trading time for money things start to make sense. Once that “commodification” takes place then the true value of time becomes apparent.  “Love to come to your pre-sentence hearing, mom, but I have to work.” Time is money, you know?

Once you sit there counting down the days until vacation, or the weekend, the minutes, or seconds until lunch, or quitting time (which is kind of mislabeled, it isn’t when you quit, I won’t make that mistake again) then you understand the measurement of time. Newton’s first law be damned. The last five minutes of a day can be an eternity. The last day before vacation is a black hole. Slowing time to the a crawl. And if you are lucky enough to make it to the last five minutes on the last day before vacation you might want to bring some extra lunch.

Really, it is no wonder people have been fascinated with time since a long, long time ago. It is the thing that gets us through the day. Watching the clock, counting down the seconds, cursing the dragging, crawling seconds, because you just know the minute hand never changes. Never!

And you wonder “what bastard invented the digital clock, anyway?” At least with an analog clock you see the destination. Five o clock, target acquired, assume attack formation. With a digital clock it is only the present, only just now, and when it is gone there it is again. Damnit!

Really, they should teach you more about time in elementary school. When you are forced to pick it up on the streets the whole thing gets a little weird. But, it is time for me to go to work. See you next time. Have a good time, and last but certainly not least, the always appropriate Bob Dylan “And you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, cause the times, they are a’changing.’”

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Broken But Healing
Linda M. Crate

Nicholas knew that he had to let bygones be bygones. His late sister Michaele would want him to start anew. But he didn’t want to forgive the man that had taken her life.

“Forgiveness isn’t about them,” Michaele’s voice whispered in his ear. “It’s about you. It’s about freeing you.”

He knew that living with all this wrath and anger couldn’t be healthy. He didn’t want to disappoint his own wife and children with all the complicated emotions he was feeling, but he thought in forgiving this terrible man he would be forgetting Michaele, too. He wasn’t willing to let his sister go, too.

Walking to the church, he paused outside the doors for several long moments. He feared what he may be told. As he walked to confess his sins, he wondered if he would be able to voice out loud what he was thinking.

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned,” he began. The words were caught in his throat for a long time before he could spit them out. “I know Michaele would want me to forgive the man that murdered her, but I’m afraid if I let go of my rage and my wrath that I will let go of her, too. I’m not willing to lose her.”

“The ones that we love never truly leave us,” came the voice on the other side. “Release your rage and your wrath. Not for the sake of your enemy, but for yourself. You will find in embracing peace that it may help you cope better with the loss of your sister. I’m sorry for what has happened to you and your family, Nicholas. I pray that things will get better for you all.”

“I hope so, too. But God has no easy answers.”

“He never does. He sometimes requires us to be stronger than we feel we can be, but He never gives us something we cannot handle.”

Nicholas didn’t know about that. He was barely holding himself together. Instead of saying anything, he simply nodded, and left. He didn’t know how he was going to forgive this man.

Slowly, as the days passed he figured out the answer. Simply to release his anger. He didn’t like what had happened to his sister nor would he ever understand it, but he couldn’t go back in the past and change it so he had to accept it.

He could not control the actions of others, either, Nicholas reasoned.

When he let go of his rage, he found the pain was still there, but somehow felt different as the priest had said it would. He found that with each day, he was putting one foot before the other, beginning again in a meaningful way.

Some days Nicholas stumbled and he fell, but his wife and children helped him when he faltered. He had discovered in that asking for help that Nicholas had actually helped free a piece of himself because there was no shame in admitting that one was broken.

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Another New Day
deb y felio

She opens her closet and wonders aloud, “Where did all these new dresses come from? How shall I decide what to wear?  I want to look nice. This blue one with the flowers and specks. I like this. Now where is my powder and lipstick? I thought I put it in this drawer…oh, here it is. Now I look ready.”

Tap tap tap. “What is that?”

“Mrs. Walters, are you ready?”   “Yes, dear. Now why are you here?”

“We’re going to breakfast, remember?”

“Oh, of course, dear.”

“But, Mrs. Walters, we’re going to need to change your dress.”

“But I like this dress – it’s new and my favorite color.”

“Yes, you’ve worn it every day this week, but there are a lot of food stains on this dress, and it really should be washed to keep it in good shape for you.”

“I’ve worn this dress before? I thought it was new. I didn’t remember it. I have all these new dresses in my closet.”

“Well, here’s a lovely green one. Let’s put this one on and go to breakfast. Then we’ll look through all your other new dresses later to see if any of the others need to be cleaned.”

“I like this dress. I think it’s my favorite. And it’s brand new.”

“Mrs Walter, every day is brand new for you, at the Care 4-U  Memory Center.”

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Monday blues and after
Sunil Sharma

Generally it happens on Fridays—the late-afternoon chat with the boss over tepid coffee; some common topics and then, the pink slip given without warning—a Tyson punch that knocks the wind out of the hit.

Hurried goodbyes. Silent tears!

For him, it happened on Monday.

Morning he was in the job. By 5 pm—out!

As in a tragedy, he could not believe this happening to him.

Why me? He asked the gods, quiet as usual.

Devastated, he went to the Marine Lines and watched a rain-soaked Mumbai skyline.

Lights came on, giving the place a magical feel.

The murky waters of a choppy sea beckoned as a solution to all the existential blues.

He sat dangling over the sea wall and thought of his options. At 38, no job; piling house -loan arrears; medicine bills; tuition fees; groceries.

Jumping into the sea was a temptation…

—Saar!

He looked back.

A kid selling roasted grams—eyes and tone pleading; frail body in faded clothes; tousled hair.

He dismissed the child with a rude gesture.

—Saar!

The voice was grating.

—Go away! He ordered.

—Saar! Saar! Please take a packet. Got a family to feed. Ma suffering from cancer; brother handicapped; father dead.

The tone was pleading.

—Your five rupees might get us a modest meal, Saar! I am not a beggar but a student working extra time…

The voice trailed off. The body shook. Tears mingled with the July rain drops pelting the city of glitzy bars, hotels and offices.

The downsized man looked into the eyes of the child, sobbing loudly—and oddly, saw his own kid in that gaunt face.

And felt terrified!

—Any elders left in family? He asked.

—Two elder brothers.

—They not supporting?

The kid paused. Then: The eldest separated long ago with his family. Second brother ran away.

Shocked, the man asked: You too can also run away?

The kid took a long breath.

—Running is not an option for some, Saar.

The man was struck dumb!

Everything changed fast afterwards.

He fished out a ten rupee note, patted the boy and said: Keep on fighting. Those down will rise up one day in life!

A message by a father to a migrant son trying to find work and shelter in Mumbai—recalled suddenly and relayed to another struggler.

The boy smiled through the tears, mumbled a thank-you and left.

Then he got a visual on phone, sent perhaps by a divine design: Sisyphus riding up the mountain with his burden.

Revived, he picked up his bag and bid goodbye to the murky depths.

—Where are you?

Whatsapp query.

—Starting over again…he wrote back, smiling at the world in general.

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Bio: Sunil Sharma is a college principal, freelance journalist, author and editor. Mumbai-based, he has published 19 books—solo and joint. His prose and poetry have appeared in many places in the world.  

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Green
Tiffany Key

Brown. Brown houses, brown roofs, brown cars, brown boots, brown shovels, brown towels, brown fingers, brown steps, brown plants, brown soccer balls submerged in the brown.

Fumiko used a rusty dustpan to scrape the mud from her front step and then her neighbor Fujiyama’s step. Fujiyama’s daughter had taken him to the evacuation center on the second day of the rains, before the street was closed. Fumiko was overjoyed when she uncovered her grandson’s tricycle, its red paint and silver spokes now brown. She put it in her kitchen so it would not be crushed by the bulldozers rolling past towards the mountain villages.

Fumiko was supposed to be in the evacuation center too but without electricity or running water, the elementary school serving as the town shelter was now overrun with exhausted neighbors whose collective body odor made Fumiko’s mud-caked house feel like a palace. She had to sleep upstairs with the windows open though sleep was hardly the word. What she did after sunset was to lay on her now dry but still dirty futon and alternate between staring at the ceiling and talking to her mother, whose framed portrait hung above a makeshift shrine.  

After sunrise, Fumiko would put on her dusty clothes and go down the hill to the grocery store where the volunteers had set up tents and tables. Every morning, those who were still in their own homes like Fumiko gathered for a bottle of green tea and a small bag of sweet bean buns. There would be rice balls for lunch and either curry or spaghetti for dinner. They had a generator running there so Fumiko could charge the battery on her phone to call her son in Yokohama. He had offered to come and get her but it was impossible. The mayor told them just yesterday that it would be weeks before power was restored. And since the bridges had been washed away, the train would not be running for months, if not longer. The roads were so damaged that the volunteers had to carry the food and supplies into town on foot.

After breakfast, Fumiko returned home, walking slowly over the brown that was now cracking from the unrelenting sun. The excess rain had been exchanged for excess heat. Someone heard on the radio that over ten-thousand people had been to the hospital with heat stroke since the rains had stopped. Over thirty dead. The village on the other side of the mountain had almost thirty dead as well, washed away in the river. Fumiko lowered herself slowly onto the front step and sat there fanning herself with a newspaper until the shade disappeared. Then she went inside and found her dustpan, now warped from overuse. She began to scrape away the brown that covered the living room tatami mats, knowing that they were ruined beyond repair but also knowing that they would be replaced, filling the house once again with the sweet scent of freshly cut grass.

Volume 1 Issue 10: Good Gone Bad

This week’s stories come from the formidable Debbie Felio, first-time contributor Tim Clark, and myself. Like usual, the stories may have shared the same conditions in their conception but are definitely distinct reactions to the prompt. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!
See you on Monday!

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No Good Deed
Debbie Felio

  He’d been around the neighborhood for the last year. Initially I thought he was scoping the neighborhood out. There are certain preconceptions, I admit. Thirty years on the same street, you might be suspicious of unknown people walking by, too. And given that most of us are on the downhill side of 60 we’re often seen as easy marks for scammers.
  But this kid – couldn’t be more than 20 – had been helping with odd jobs – yard work, cleaning gutters, even shoveling sidewalks and putting down the melt or gravel in the winter. Mostly outdoor stuff because none of us wanted to risk him coming into the house and stealing something.
  A mutual benefits sort of thing – we got those jobs that we didn’t want to admit we couldn’t do anymore done by helping someone else out – cash – no questions. And he was reasonable and dependable. We weren’t sure exactly what his name was – Markus, Marko, Mario – he answered to any of those. We weren’t a prejudiced group, but you can’t help but notice differences.
  It was one of those surprise weather days when Mother Nature decided to smile big time after a hard couple of weeks of winter. Clear blue sky, in the 70s and some early budding. Some of us were setting our chairs back on our porches and opening the house windows. We all saw Marco/Mario walk up the street from the bus stop at the light 3 blocks away. It wasn’t a regular day for him so none of us had our lists ready. He waved as he passed, but he wasn’t stopping. We watched him walk to Jake Slate’s house. Jake the Snake we called him. A slithery character who mostly kept to himself. A little too off center if you asked me. And Marco/Mario didn’t stop at the porch but walked into the house when Jake opened the door.
  About an hour later, a couple of us on our porches see him – Marco/Mario – come running out of Jake’s house – pulling his pants up and stumbling – that’s when he falls down, and me and Hadley run over to him. He’s bleeding and that’s when we call 911. The fire, ambulance and police all show up. He tried to refuse help, but because there’d been some sort of injury the police had to make a report. Seemed Jake wanted a job a little too odd. When the police go to Jake’s house, there’s no answer, so they go in and Jake’s dead – looks like he fell down the stairs. But because Marco/Mario is the last to see him, he’s now a suspect in a possible homicide – even if it’s accidental.
  He’s taken to the police station and they discover Marco/Mario came over illegally as a kid from Mexico wth his parents who were sent back 2 years ago, so they call ICE.
  That’s all I know.

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Life gets away, this time.
Tim Clark

Life is hard to understand, Occasionally something good will happen. Most times, though, random occurrences, minor, petty inconveniences barge in callously proving life is not your friend. Life belongs in a museum, behind glass, or a zoo locked in a cage. We need to control life a little better. Life walks around, taking, and stomping, and smashing, and just being a big bully in general.

We, here at Life Explained, have decided to take steps to rein in the abusive monster of reality. First we called a meeting, complete with catered breakfast, and coffee service.

It was fantastic, croissants, bagels, fresh pastries, all arrayed in artfully on long tables, covered with pristine white linens. Oh, and the coffee, was the coffee extraordinary. Dark, hot, freshly ground, steam rising as you poured it in your cup. It had to be the coffee of the gods.

A line started to form at the buffet table. Soon there was some jostling, it looked like the cheese danish were going to go before Geoff, the archivist was going to get one. He tried to muscle his way in front of Cathy, the secretary for transportation department, nasty words were exchanged. Glares, snarls and curses.

Not just swearing either. Turns out Cathy comes from a long line or gypsies. It was, in retrospect, obvious. Cathy was always wearing flowing, pleated, flowered skirts ending at her ankle. Her dusky complexion was complimented by eyes so dark and so glittering they appeared to be pupiless. When she walked, anywhere, people, in the back of their thoughts, almost imperceptibly, heard distant, primal music. A song that haunted them for minutes after she had past. Nobody said anything about the melody, why would they. And nobody made the connection, until yesterday.

Before Geoff could could get back to the end of the line all of his hair had fallen out. He had spent so much time perfecting his look, just the right amount of grey around the temples, the rest jet black, and combed precisely backward, almost aerodynamically. He spent a small fortune on hair products, to keep it in place and colored just perfectly. His clothing was chosen to compliment his hair.

When it fell out he dropped to the floor, sobbing, weeping, curled up in a ball, his face buried in his hands. His shining, bald head gleaming under the harsh lights of the flashing camera phones. It was heartbreaking, and all over Instagram.

We decided Life had won this round. Cathy got her own office, and a company car. Geoff apologized and got his hair back, in a gleaming shade of white/silver that would go with almost any suit. And we went back to work.

Don’t worry, we haven’t given up, we lost the battle, but the war continues. Maybe we will have pizza next time.

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 Imelda and Her Shiny Shoes

Tiffany Key

The first pair of shoes that someone, other than her mother, bought for her was after the great storm. The streets were flooded but she had to wear her only shoes or risk stepping on something. The missionaries had handed out the cheap rubber sandals at the end of their visit the previous year. For a while, she was able to get around with the soles flapping open like two hungry mouths under her toes. Eventually, though, the glue disintegrated completely and the shoes became a collection of irreparable pieces.   

Her mother was working in the city at the time and no one else had the money to take care of little Imelda’s footwear problem. She could not go to school without shoes and for several days, went instead to the harbor and make herself comfortable in her uncles’ fishing boat. She would bring her books and dutifully complete her daily assignments. She’d eat her lunch and then take a short nap under the canvas sail she stretched over the stern like a roof.

Had one of her family members discovered her, she would have been scolded for being on the boat but not for the truancy. Night fishermen, her uncles and grandfather thought that sending Imelda to school was a waste of money. Imelda’s mother wanted her bright daughter to do well in school so she could have a future away from the slums. It was for her beloved mother’s sake that Imelda was so diligent with her studies though, for the most part, she found school tedious. She was absorbed in an arithmetic problem when she was spied by her mother’s best friend. The woman walked down the rickety dock in fragile stiletto heels, calling Imelda’s name. When she asked the child why she was not at school, Imelda looked down at her feet in shame, unable to explain to her mother’s elegant friend that she was not allowed in school barefoot.

The woman had grown up in the same neighborhood so she understood without Imelda’s words. The woman told Imelda to pack up her books and follow her. At the mansion the woman called home, her maid was instructed to give Imelda a bath. Then she had her driver take her and Imelda to the shopping street. Imelda was speechless, nodding or shaking her head to all questions. When she was dropped off back home, new patent leather shoes and white socks adorning her small clean feet, she was irreversibly altered. She had been shown a new world, a world where food did not have to be grown or caught if you wanted to eat, a world with maids and drivers and shoe salesmen and the rich fragrance of Vol de Nuit.

Decades later, after they had arrived safely in Hawaii and she learned that not only her jewelry but her thousands of shoes had been confiscated, Imelda’s distressed mind returned to those first shoes. She smiled, remembering how she would use banana peels to keep the patent leather glossy enough to see her future, shining bright.

No. 7: Stories: The Golden Years

So, this last week was rough in terms of doing all that needs to be done for this project. A major event at my work gobbled up my hours and energy. I typically don’t accept excuses like that from myself but since time is ticking by, I need to get on with the show. This week, we actually only have one story. Well, from me there are these two sentences:

On the day that Ronald Wright retired, he went home, kissed his wife and then took the dog out for a walk. In the park, he let the dog off the leash though the old beagle did not go too far.

I meant to finish it up today but then it became midnight and Monday transformed into Tuesday. So I am going to keep the two sentences and use them later.

Luckily, we have the ever-persistent and ever-so-talented Debbie Felio with her story “Where’s the Gold?”. Enjoy!

Where’s the Gold?
Debbie Felio
Desirable. Valuable. The stuff dreams are made of. Gold.
The gold rush brought pioneers to the great West of the United States and wealth to a great many.
Five golden rings in the 12 days of Christmas
Streets of gold in the heavens of eternity.
First place Olympians.
The fantasies-
Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – apparently still up for grabs.
Rumpelstiltskin and spinning straw into gold for a price.
Goldilocks – she was a bit of a criminal.
That goose that laid the golden eggs and look what happened to her.
King Midas whose own golden years turned on him.
Sometimes the Gold isn’t what we thought it would be. ‘The Golden Years’ was once a marketing strategy to lure active retirement-aged adults to a special new living arrangement for 55+ in a golden place called Sun City. Separating them from the rest of the population to enjoy the later years unbothered by responsibility or family. For a hunk of their gold. An artificially created goal – like that pot at the end of the rainbow.
Then on those special occasions when they were engaged with grandchildren a comment following the answer to ‘how old are you ?’  was ‘Gee, old… in years’.  Golden Years became an unfinished bridge between the young and old because there were no connecting experiences or stories to link them together. Nothing to paint a picture of life that is lived reverently or respectfully or even at times recklessly – that points to the realities of brokenness along the way and the picking oneself up and perseverance to continue the journey.
The Japanese art form of Kintsugi honors the value that remains in broken things. When a bowl or teapot or precious piece of pottery is broken, rather than set it aside or discard it, it is repaired, not by trying to hide or disguise – like so much plastic surgery that attempts to deny the golden years – but with a liquid gold that brings the fragments together again and enhances the breaks, giving the piece of pottery a more refined appearance by the highlighting of the cracks. It acknowledges uniqueness and resilience, value and honor in imperfection and age. Just as each piece has its own beauty of cracks and lines highlighted in gold, how much more might we as a culture begin connecting with each other if we begin to recognize the beauty in the lines of our own bodies – those places that record our uniqueness, our experiences, our stories.
Because those broken experiences can begin at a very young age, rather than wait for those elusive ‘Golden Years’  why not let life experiences be the uniting bridge as we recognize in each other at any age the precious and honored gold in years.

Week 4: Stories

This week’s prompt, if you will recall, was the color blue.
What I like about this project, besides for providing writers (including myself) with such an opportunity, is how despite using the same prompt, all the stories are so unique.
This week we had three different submissions (along with my own). I chose the color blue because it has such significance in our language, such weight. Debbie Felio’s short piece illustrates this point exactly with her story that doubles as a poem. Jonah Jones‘ story is as philosophical as it is humorous. And Dennis Leneave‘s title alone combines the two most common associations with the color blue, sky and eyes, to carry us readers along through the lives of his characters.
And as for my own story, well, all I can say is that I enjoyed writing it and I am glad to have it read in company with the others.
Happy reading.
=========================================
Untitled
by deb y felio

Blue
is

the promise in

                       toddler eyes

                       cloudless skies

                       sapphires

                       flames in fires

                       deep seas

                       suede shoes

                       jazz tunes

                       summer berries

the pain in

                      fresh bruises

                      veined skin

                      police lines

                      divided states

                      moods

                      cold lips

                      fingertips

me and you.

                                                        
==========================================================================

The Division Between Blue and Blue

by Jonah Jones

The observer watched the seagull as it carved the wind; black against the blue sky, white against the blue sea.   The observer’s logic stated that the seagull must be grey when it was on the horizon between the two kinds of blue.  The transformation should be observable.  The observer manipulated the position of his eyes to catch that fleeting moment and discovered that the logic had been flawed.  On the unreal mark between blue and blue, the bird disappeared.  The observer moved his head to find the bird, crouched and then stood tall, looked this way and that but the creature was no longer there to be observed.

The observer had pushed the bird out of existence simply by manipulating the means of observation.  This was a wonderment indeed.  The observer stood and looked around at all the empty blue and began to make his way home, contemplating the possibilities of what had happened.  After much mental juxtapositioning of fact and causality, the observer came to the conclusion that existence depended upon existence being observed.

Just before the seagull’s unquestionably real guano hit the top of the observer’s head, the shock of which caused the observer’s heart to stop and his existence to end.

The seagull flew on, not wondering about anything, simply observing.

 

===========================================================

THE GIRL WITH THE SKY BLUE EYES
Dennis Leneave

 

She came from a prosperous planters family. They farmed a couple hundred acres of rich bottom land that straddled both sides of good luck creek 4 miles north of Berea Kentucky. She had a fair complexion and fine light wavy hair. She had all the vigor and beauty of youth. She had hands like all country girls that were as equally skilled at threading a needle as they were at wringing a chickens neck. She had two older brothers Eugene and Buck and her younger sisters Judy and Beatsie. Her daddy was Alexander Johnson, named after his daddy who was named after his daddy and his before that all the way back to the son of Philip of Macedon or so you would’ve thought. Her mother died of scarlet fever when she was 13 and was buried in a grove of red buds on a bluff overlooking the farm.

He was from the hills and hollers of southern Rockcastle County. His family had a homestead log cabin above Hard Luck Creek a mile south of Big Hill. He was 18 years old and had black thick coarse hair like all melungeons of Hunish descent. He kept it trimmed in a flat top so perfect it felt like a horse brush if you passed your hand across it. He was tall and lean to the point of being almost gaunt, just like all the hill people of Southeast Kentucky. He had dark deep set sad eyes and a dark complexion. His limbs while thin, were long and possessed strength that only hardship and toil can bestow. His father’s father rode with Mosby’ s Raiders under the direction of John Bell Hood. He and his brothers carried shotguns everywhere they went and occasionally a pistol. In this part of middle America the civil war still hadn’t ended. It was 1942.

No one knows how it happened but Ruth Evelynn Johnson became “with child”.

“Daddy” Johnson, as we all came to know him was furious. They called it throwing a Johnson fit and if you ever were the recipient of a Johnson fit,  it wasn’t a lesson you quickly forgot! It was all the men of the town could do to stop daddy from riding with his hired hands to Big Hill to kill the hood, John B Hunman.

It was Everette’s idea to send them north.

John B told Everette, his brother, he reckoned to make Evelyn his wife. This was accomplished through a great uncle who was justice of the county. Everette told John B, go to Ohio. There’s factories there that will pay a man 2 dollars an hour. With the war going on there’s plenty of work and overtime pay at one and half times your wage. Go! Leave us here to filter the coal dust,  besides we don’t need Daddy Johnson here throwing no damn fits!

She bore him 7 more children. He brought her home to Daddy one weekend a month for the rest of his life. Traveling the Dixie Highway. He retired from that factory 50 years later and died the next year. He had bought her a house on a little farm with a vegetable garden and chickens, an apple orchard and grape arbor, a strawberry patch, 3 peach trees and 2 pear. She created and raised his family.

At the funeral Daddy Johnson still alive and in his 90s refused to sit and demanded he help bear the casket of that hood John B Hunman.

Evelyn lived another 10 years and when she died her grandson found this piece of paper tucked away in a scrap book photo album. Yellowed with age and the simple typed heading that read.

                BEREA CHURCH OF GOD

                   34 E MONMOUTH ST.

Scribbled in pencil below it said…..
I came to this dance
Surprise surprise
The boys from the holler
Don’t tell no lies
Girls a plenty
Standin in line
Everette lit the punch bowl
With our finest shine
The moon came full
I seen it rise
Then I saw you
With your sky blue eyes
I asked you to dance
You kicked real fine
I’ll be back next moon
To make you mine

==================================================================

Cyanopsia
Tiffany Key

He only liked blue-eyed girls. This was something a mutual friend told me, gently telling me that I stood no chance. It made sense, I thought, as looking into his eyes was like flying across the clearest of skies. It only seemed fair that if you gave someone such an experience you would want the same in return.
So I went to the surgeon, the one I had heard about, and browsed through his catalogue. There were two options, either to dye the iris through a series of injections or to do a complete transplant. Next to the receptionist’s desk, there was a glass freezer case with donor eyes on display. There were some really beautiful pairs but the blue ones were the most expensive. And there was a waiting list, the receptionist told me. If I added my name, I would be number fifty-six. It could take over a year.
After considering this for a few minutes, I made an appointment for my first dyeing session the following day. I went ahead and selected a gorgeous topaz hue that was guaranteed to sparkle in the sunlight.
Naturally, I was nervous. I am not a fan of needles and hate anything coming into contact with my eyeballs, even eye drops make me cringe. But he was worth it. So I took some Valium and laid down on the paper-covered doctor’s table.
The doctor apologized afterward. He sneezed, the needle slipped. He assured me that it would get better, that the blue-tinted vision would fade. And when it did, I could return for another session.
But it never did and now my world is blue but my eyes remain unappealingly brown. I feel as though I am living in my own private sea and it is lonely. I still manage to go through my days as I always have but I cannot escape the truth of our vulnerability, that our reality can be altered so easily. No one else knows about failed dye job but everyone, even he, has noticed my low spirits. I have tried to describe to them how futile it is to depend on the seen world, that what we perceive to be true is subject to corruption. But philosophical topics are not very popular in my crowd so I have learned to keep my silence.
Luckily, I will be back to my old self soon enough. You see, the good thing though about that little sneeze is that my name got bumped up to the top of the waiting list. By this time next month, that sapphire pair on the top shelf will belong to me. I even got a coupon. Buy one, get one free.

 

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