My Man, Bowling

A Short Story by
Dan McClenaghan

bowlingballsRuth and Ellis invited their next door neighbors, Clete and Juanita, out for a couple of friendly frames of bowling, losing couple buys the burgers after the game. They rolled down in Clete and Juanita’s car, and crossed the sun-baked parking lot and slipped inside, escaping the smoggy summer heat in the cool darkness of the Loma Alta Lanes, on Old Highway 101. The double-daters sighed in four part harmony as the air conditioning froze the moisture on their sweaty backs. They paid for their rental shoes, while Ellis insisted he needed a pair of size fourteens, when in reality he wore seven-and-a-halves.

“You know what they say about a guy’s shoe size,” he grinned, winking at the woman at the shoe counter.

The woman rolled her eyes, and Ruth, a woman who would know, said, “Then you ought to get yourself a pair of size threes.”

Juanita and the girl behind the shoe counter snickered. Clete stifled a laugh and wandered off to find a suitable ball. Ellis scowled and took his size fourteens down to their lane. And Ruth said to Juanita, “That idiot’s gonna look like a clown in those stupid shoes.”

Ruth was right. The rental shoes extended a good six inches beyond the ends of her husband’s toes, and curled upward, like something a court jester would wear, rendering Big Foot Ellis—as he began calling himself at the start of the first game—clumsy and unsteady of foot, and causing him step over the foul line into the alley in the fourth frame, onto the oiled wood, where he commenced to slipping and sliding, his body writhing, his arms jerking every which way as he tried to maintain his balance.

“My man,” Ruth groaned, rubbing her fingers on her temples as Ellis went down hard with a seismic thump that caused Juanita’s ball in the next alley to jump six inches off the wood and veer into the gutter.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” she shouted, as Ellis, on his hands and knees, crawled up the slick wood, and Clete said, “Don’t worry ’bout it, Juanita. That cheap-assed SOB’ll do anything to get out of buyin’ us a burger.”

……………………..

About Dan McClenaghan

I write stuff. I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and four (soon to be five) beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

Photo credit: Bill Harrison via a Creative Commons license.

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Endless Summer Nights

 

By Scott Gressitt

CellsPuzzleInAPetalYour eyes were closed, I touched your hair
I breathed you in and held you close.
My sheets, still potent with your scent
and all is damp.            We leave a trail.

The puzzles that we humans solve
are rife with wobbly, complex curves.
complicated by our filters,
always needing some repair.

I don’t know enough about you.
Dare I risk my resource bank?
You could walk off with my heart.
I could walk off with your soul.

Yet the months tick by and we
enjoy the moments that we share.
We could call the whole thing off
avoid the hurt that comes with care

But just for now I lay you down
and take you to the pastures where
no thoughts of pain or sorrow draw.
Be still and let me ravish you.
We laugh and talk the whole night through.
Together we take pleasure in.
We pass it back and forth until
the light grows on my western wall.

Our bodies, soft and warm, still glow
from loving treatment through the night.
Each tender word delivered softly
fills our hearts, our vines entwined.

The chemistry of sex and passion
touch, caress and kisses near
our softest places, causes networks
of entangled love and care.

I become yours, you become mine.
There is no way to stop this course
except to say goodbye right now
and turn from the inevitable.

Or we could laugh and share our thoughts
again, break bread and walk this way.
Sit knee to knee, engaging through
these seeming endless summer nights.

……………………

About Scott Gressitt

An amateur writer and rapscallion, I write of my past, a life laden with extraordinary events. I have walked in places most of the population avoids. Besides scars and bruises, I’ve collected experiences that frighten, delight and entertain. I write with the intent to take you on a wild ride where all your senses are fully engaged. Enjoy.

Photo credit: “Puzzle in a Petal” by Olga Berrios via a Creative Commons license

 

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Interview: Author Deborah Harkness, All Souls Trilogy

Interviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

Deborah Harness will be reading from and discussing her final book in the All Souls Trilogy, “The Book of Life,” at Warwick’s in La Jolla on Friday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m. Reserved seating requires advance purchase of “The Book of Life” from Warwick’s, which can be reached at 858-454-0347.

Deborah Harness will be reading from and discussing her final book in the All Souls Trilogy, The Book of Life, at Warwick’s in La Jolla on Friday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m. Reserved seating requires advance purchase of the book from Warwick’s, which can be reached at 858-454-0347.

On July 15, the New York Times bestselling All Souls Trilogy concludes with the release of the final novel in the fantasy series by historian and scholar Deborah Harkness: The Book of Life (Viking, July 15, 2014). The Book of Life offers a conclusion likely to be as auspicious as the series’ 2011 birth with A Discovery of Witches, which received such early and eager praise, it launched directly onto the bestseller list.

A Discovery of Witches introduced the trilogy’s reluctant protagonist, contemporary witch and scholar Diana Bishop, and her forbidden “cross-species” love interest, vampire and geneticist Matthew Clairmont. While circumstances compelled Diana to acknowledge and embrace her inherent nature, she and Matthew pursued an exploration of the prejudices, prohibitions, and threats within their world, while in the company of a cast of vivid characters, including some gays and lesbians, all nicely mirroring themes of current polemics.

Shadow of Night swiftly followed A Discovery of Witches in 2012 and garnered comparable praise. Harkness’ adept writing—rich in historical detail, supernatural mythology, romance and humor—and her diverse and complex characters created a celebrated trilogy for adult fantasy devotees, a trilogy with a bold social conscience.

Now, after devouring The Book of Life, Harkness fans will mourn the series’ end. But the conclusion calls for a bit of retrospection, a look at the context of the trilogy’s launch and the implicit lessons Harkness has intended to convey. She shared her thoughts in a recent telephone interview.

“Part of what I was interested in doing when I started writing this trilogy was to see … can I make the past seem relevant and fun and sexy, but also get it true and right, and not distort it?”

Harkness was worried about honoring her characters, just as she worried that her students at University of Southern California might not see, for example, the human behind Henry VIII’s dastardly behavior.

“History should not be about judgment; it should be about understanding. And that really does feed my work as a teacher and as a writer. How can we use history not to judge but to understand?

“When I started writing these books in 2008, it was Prop. 8 [California’s anti-same-sex marriage ballot measure, which was eventually ruled unconstitutional] and the year before the [200th] Darwin anniversary. There was this sort of bizarre confluence of circumstances, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to inflict restrictions on one part of the population?’ We have a culture that says one thing and does another.”

Harkness says the relationships in her books are intentional metaphors for today’s prejudices—and enlightenments—and she uses readers’ fascination with witches and vampires deliberately.

“We can employ them to talk about and think about today’s issues. It’s about empathy. That is the number one thing I try to teach students, and it is the number one thing in the world.”

From Harkness’ heart to her characters’. In the author’s inscription of The Book of Life, she cheekily appropriates a quotation often misattributed to Charles Darwin, and ascribes it to her character Philippe de Clermont, the vampire patriarch: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Diana reiterates the message as she describes the love she shares with Matthew: “It grew because our bond was strong enough to withstand the hatred and fear of others. And it would endure because we had discovered, like the witches so many centuries ago, that a willingness to change was the secret of survival.”

And isn’t art—be it literary, visual or performance—an invitation to change?

…………………………

Also published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

 

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August 12, 2014, Writers Read at Fallbrook Library Presents

Laurel Corona, historical novelist

Discussing

The Mapmaker’s Daughter


mapmakersDaughterPreceded by open mic for original poetry and prose

Date: Tuesday, August 12, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650

Laurel Corona is a long-time Writers Read favorite, and we’re delighted to have her back—with her newest historical novel, The Mapmaker’s Daughter. Set in 15th century Spain during the Inquisition and the Jewish expulsion, heroine Amalia Riba struggles to maintain her identity and faith.

The Mapmaker’s Daughter will be available for sale and signing by the author.

For more information, contact K-B Gressitt at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

 

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501 Valley Drive

By Penny Perry

for John

Chaste in our pajamas,
we held each other
in that knotty pine bedroom
until our wedding in TJ.

Back in our bungalow
on Valley Drive,
after vows.
Me, slipping out of my wool dress.
Your skin, smelling of salt water
and lime cologne,
saving me.

HorseRaceMorning coffee, your Marlboros.
Palm tree in a lumpy patio.
We sat under the rusted umbrella.
Your dark blue eyes
matching the cotton of your shirt,
the dark blue ink of your pen
in your long tan fingers
filling out the racing forms.

Horses galloping us
out of our future

……………………….

About Penny Perry

A three time Pushcart nominee, twice for poetry and once for fiction, my stories and poems have been widely published in literary magazines. Fiction Daily tagged my short story “Haunting the Alley,” published online in Literary Mama in August 2011.

My first collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage, was published in 2012 by Garden Oak Press. The collection earned praise from Marge Piercy, Steve Kowit, Diane Wakoski, and Maria Gillan.

I was the fiction editor for Knot Literary Magazine, a Middle Eastern literary journal. I was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute, and my movie A Berkeley Christmas aired on PBS. And, I’ve just completed a novel about a school shooting.

I write under two names, Penny Perry and Kate Harding.

Photo credit: Antonio Rivera via a Creative Commons license

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Angelica’s Heart, Part 3

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

By Dan McClenaghan

ClonedPigsBBCFrank Phillips, a fifty-three year old widow has received an experimental heart transplant from a cloned donor pig named Angelica. He is traveling north in a limousine from the Baja California clinic that supplied him with his new heart. Dr. Amali Mahanthappa, the clinic’s director and his personal surgeon, accompanies him. Once past the border, rolling into the United States, the limo driver (the limo and driver supplied by an anonymous benefactor) stops at a Hooters for sustenance, picks up a waitress, and makes plans to transport her with them to Los Angeles, to confer with the benefactor.

Nando, the limo driver, pulled off the freeway in San Diego and steered through another maze of city streets onto an avenue of wall-to-wall apartment complexes. One set of blocky beige buildings after another, all but identical in architecture and color. An enormous hive.

“Dr. Mahanthappa,” I said.

“Do me a favor: My name is Amali.”

I considered this. “Amali,” I said slowly, savoring the word. “Three musical syllables.” A smile played on her lips. I hoped that meant I was forgiven for my harshness at accusing her of blackmail. “What’s with Trina, this Hooters Girl thing, Amali?”

Dr. Mahanthappa’s face hardened. Her mouth pinched into a tight bud as Nando pulled off the street and into the driveway of one of the apartment complexes, the Eucalyptus Arms.

“My guess is that our driver has been given orders to trawl for potential concubines, in case our benefactor’s, um, retinue of the same proves unsatisfactory.”

“He has a retinue of concubines?” Who would presumably be at my disposal? At one time in my life, pre-Jolene, my dear departed wife , this would have seemed enticing. Now it just made me sad.

“He does,” said Dr. Mahanthappa, “of a sort.”

“Ain’t that something.” I said, as Nando entered a sprawling carport area. I looked out the car’s window as we passed a young woman in dark gray banker’s business attire, carrying, in the inverted cone of a parking lot light, two plastic bags of groceries toward the doorway of a ground floor apartment.

Nando found a parking space and braked to a stop, as the vision of Jolene eclipsed the sordid scene of the swarm of writhing concubines that swam in front of my eyes. My departed wife’s expression was soft, kind. Jolene mouthed the word “Sam.”

Sam, my youngest child. We’d found out about his diabetes when he was 17. His weight was down to a hundred and twenty pounds on a five-foot, ten-inch frame, and he told Jolene that he was pretty sure something was wrong with him. I brushed it off. She didn’t. She took him into the Urgent Care on a Friday night, the first day of the Memorial Day weekend, despite my claim that we could wait until Tuesday for such a vague complaint. They checked his blood, his sugar, and told her he wouldn’t have made it through the weekend. They started him on the insulin immediately.

Dr. Mahanthappa’s plan to create in the clinic’s Angelica pigs an array of non-rejectible organs—including pancreases that could cure Sam’s type 1 diabetes—forced my decision right there and then in the back seat of that limo, to dance to this fool benefactor’s tune, no matter what.

Nando got out of the limo and set off to find Hooter Girl Trina’s apartment.

“Every time my Sam wants to put something in his mouth, he has to dig out that insulin and the needle,” I said to Dr. Mahanthappa. Amali.

“A pain in the butt way to live, Frank. We could change all that.” She turned and faced me. A parking lot light shining in the back window softly lit the left half of her face. She smiled. She was lovely. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling back. “When’s the last time you made love, Frank?”

Under different circumstances, I might have thought this a prelude to an offer. But this was Dr. Mahanthappa’s medical side talking, I was sure. I was also sure we’d been over this before, before my acquisition of Angelica’s heart. But I repeated my sad answer.

“It must be four years now, since before Jolene got sick.”

“And you never took some comfort outside your marriage during that difficult time?”

I felt a deep ache in Angelica’s heart, now mine. “It wouldn’t have been a comfort. It would have been a dirty betrayal.”

She turned away from me, back to face the front of the car. “I’m not doing well with this, Frank. What I’m trying to get at—” she turned my way again and reached across the gulf between us to place her hand on top of mine “is that if this somewhat sordid thing we’re going to have you involved in makes you uncomfortable, and, um, performance is an issue, I want to remind you that I am a doctor.”

“I hope so.”

She made a fist with the hand she’d laid on top of mine and gave my upper arm a soft punch. “I mean, I can write you a prescription for something.”

“Oh, you mean an ED drug.”

She nodded in the dim light. “It might make your … audition go more smoothly.”

I wasn’t sure of what to say. Rescue came with the arrival of Nando and Trina, with another young woman in tow. The other woman was identical to Trina, from the top of her chestnut brown hair to the bottom of her white sneakers, and the Hooters t-shirt and the short-shorts bulging at the seams in between.

“Twins,” I said.

“No shit, Sherlock,” said Dr. Mahanthappa, glaring out the side window as the trio trekked across the parking lot in our direction. Before they arrived, the good doctor swung her door open and bounced out of the back of our limo to intercept Nando and his girls. It didn’t have the look of a cordial interception.

“This isn’t going to happen,” the doctor said, stabbing Nando’s chest with a forefinger.

The finger poke from the doctor nudged Nando back a step. He brought his hands up, palms forward in a placating mode. An artificial smile strained his face. “Easy, Doc. Relax.”

“I didn’t spend eight years of my life busting my ass on my xenotransplantation game to serve up my prime experiment to a couple of over-ripe, venereal disease-ridden bimbos.”

Trina and her twin, each with an identical sports bag and cantalopian boobs, looked at each other, then back at the doctor. “Who’s this bitch calling a bimbo?” they said in perfect unison.

“Who are you calling a bitch?” said the doctor.

I came out of the limo and sidled around in front of the doctor. “Amali,” I said. “Calm down girl. It’s not going to happen.”

“Who’s the old guy?” said the twin who had not served me a burger and beers at Hooters.

Nando said, “Now, Rose, that’s not a nice thing to call your new boyfriend.”

“Fuckin’ boyfriend? Since when did auditioning for a centerfold shot involve having an old guy for a boyfriend?”

“Centerfold?” I said.

The doctor shot a quick look at me, then directed her attention back to the twins, “Why don’t you just shut your mouth, slut face, before I shut if for you.”

If the girls didn’t like the idea of being called bimbos, “slut face” was even less popular. Two sports bags dropped simultaneously and hit with a harmonic thump on the blacktop. Nando tried to stop their charge. Trina hit him with an elbow to the side of the jaw that dropped him. Dr. Mahanthappa grabbed the front of my shirt and spun me around and pushed me so hard against the front fender of the limo that I ended up seated on its hood, safely away from the action, with the heat from the clicking engine warming my buns. Her pirouette, positioning herself for the onslaught of the twins, included a high leg and a foot that connected with the side of the head of one of the girls, the one not Trina, I believed, the one Nando had called Rose. The recipient of the kick went over like a chain-sawed tree and bounced hard on the blacktop. The other girl—Trina herself, was my guess, by process of elimination—screamed like a cat and moved in on the doctor full of sharp claws and feline fury. The doctor danced a deft side-step and gave Trina a kick in the ass as she wooshed by, sending her right at me. I rolled to my left to the front of the limo and off it to the ground. Trina hit the hood with a metallic thump, sprawled briefly on the hot metal before she writhed around to meet her adversary again, while her twin sat bleary-eyed in an empty parking space, slack-jawed, shaking her head to clear a fog of a minor concussion. Enraged, Trina came at the doctor low and began the wide-open swing of a haymaker that started down by her heels. But the doctor delivered a front kick to Trina’s chest, dead center between those breasts the size and shape of a pair of  volleyballs.

Meanwhile, the perception of ostentatious wealth combined with the cat screams and the cursing were a catnip to the hive inhabitants: A score and a half of Trina and her sister’s fellow apartment dwellers had appeared out of dark walkways into the fuzzy yellow illumination of the parking lot lights in what seemed an eyeblink. Virtually all of them had cell phone cameras.

A week later, on the the Las Vegas Monorail, I watched the incident on YouTube on an iPad provided by my benefactor. It had been posted seventeen times, from seventeen different points of view. My favorite was an edited compilation that drew from all of the other perspectives, rolled out in glorious slow motion: The twin not Trina took the side of Dr. Mahanthappa’s foot in the temple. Her hair exploded slowly from her head, her eyes bulged, her posture went ramrod straight with scrambled neural impulses, and she went over, drawing a small cloud of dust as she did a rubbery impact on the ground, then lay there with her leg twitching, as a different camera swept to catch the doctor dancing a fluid samba step out of the charging Trina’s way, then delivering the ass kick that sank deep in the supple flesh of the girl’s right bun, sending out a series of provocative, gelatinous, undulating ripples in the ripe flesh. Even in slo-mo, Trina’s stay on the hood was brief. She spun and floated off the hood in altered gravity, her mouth wide open, teeth bared, eyes on fire with murderous malevolence, her left hand, balled into a small fist, floating back, down and behind her torso. Then Amali’s knee rising, her foot snapping out in front of her to catch Trina between the boobs, two spheres that remained in place as the girls sternum went concave. The separated breasts clapped together, embracing Amali’s foot, then bounced apart, and Trina’s feet left the ground as she sailed oh-so-slowly away from the impact into the side of the limo, her arms going akimbo, a silent scream coming from her mouth as she fell face first onto the black top, and Nando and the doctor moved in, took me by the arms, and danced me into the back seat once more.

But that, the YouTube show, was later. For the time being, it was back in the limo with my now hyper-ventilating doctor, doors slamming, tires screaming on the limo’s exit from the Eucalyptus Arms, and me not quite sure what had gone down, it had all happened so fast. And now I was off to see my benefactor and a retinue of concubines, with the hopes of a pig’s pancreas in my son’s future.

………………………………..

About Dan McClenaghan

I write stuff. I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and four (soon to be five) beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

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Writers Read at Fallbrook Library Presents

Author Lauren Cobb

July 8, 2014, discussing

Boulevard Women


BoulevardWomenPreceded by open mic for original poetry and prose

Date: Tuesday, July 8, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650

Lauren Cobb, Professor of English at Bemidji State University, Minnesota, will be reading from and discussing her new collection of linked short stories, Boulevard Women. Winner of the 2012 G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction, the collection delves into the lives of three women, born in three distinct generations and living as neighbors in Athens, Georgia.

Boulevard Women will be available for sale and signing by the author.

For more information, contact K-B Gressitt at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

 

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Worse Than That. He’s Dead: Found Literature in Istanbul

With thanks to Ahmet, waiter with a white heart


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Turkish phrase bookThe streets of Istanbul channel a torrent of tourists to anointed points of interest.

They flow into the courtyard of Sultan Ahmed’s Blue Mosque, clicking gum and photos of a wedding party, the bride hidden behind impenetrable white.

They swell into the Hagia Sofia—erstwhile basilica and mosque, now museum—and take selfies framed by Islamic calligraphy.

They churn around the vendors, devouring sesame-seeded simit, watermelon, grilled corn, Osmanlı macunu—Ottoman taffy in Crayola colors.

They run past persistent carpet merchants, street hustlers who’ve assumed touching privileges for unaccompanied, uncovered women.

They eddy in quiet corners, settling in for long breakfasts served by those whose hearts are white.* There, in an English Speaking Guide, with “helpful” phrases of dubious content and translation, there be poetry and prose. And here are some serendipitous finds from the book—titles are mine.

Love,
K-B

Love Speaks

Love speaks in many ways.
Love sometimes speaks in gifts of flowers.
Love sometimes speaks in laughter.
Love sometimes speaks in words.
It will all be different once you get married.

Clarity

I must make one thing quite clear.
If there is one thing I hate, it’s to be swindled.

Do You Like

You are a lovely looking woman. Let us talk a little. Do you like music?
I do not like it.
Do you like dancing?
I do not like it.
Will you come for a walk with me?
I have a great deal to do.
Is anybody in your room?
Do not keep me waiting any longer.

Nita

What do you know about Nita?
Her sense of humor is uproarious. She makes me laugh.
That’s what you say.

Everybody Dreams

You tell me your dream. And I’ll tell you mine.
How do you know?
Know what?
That I had a dream.
It’s always six to one that somebody’s had a dream.
I had a dream about a girl I once knew by the name of Faye. It was the middle of the seventies.
Don’t talk to me about the seventies.

That Girl

How’s that girl friend of yours?
Hell, Seldon’s a better woman than she is.

Beauty Hard to Find

You have a different face, and that’s beauty hard to find. Have you ever dated a man?
Sure plenty of times. Just dates. Just to kill a Saturday night. Every girl does that. You’re jealous?

Jean

Jean, couldn’t you take my shoes off? I want a bath, a hot bath, Jean.
That is impossible. It is the only wish I cannot grant you yet.
How do you mean? Don’t people have baths in here?
No, I am the only one, I believe.

Intrigue

Don’t forget to destroy this letter at once.

Oh Istanbul

What do you think of Istanbul, Madam?
Istanbul is a very interesting city, but the ways are complicated.
You’re right. It causes many problems.

This Is Madness

Your psychology is excellent.
My ability has caught the eyes of all human beings.
Everybody is a little mad.

Clayton

There has been an accident.
What kind of an accident?
It happened in the night.
That is very interesting, indeed. Is Clayton seriously injured?
Worse than that. He’s dead.

 

* Turkish expression meaning he’s a nice guy.

 

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New Mexico Nap

By Beth Newcomer

 

rustedchairsIt’s the middle of August, and I’m eight-and-a-half years old.

We’ve driven the blue Chevrolet sedan across the country, from the Midwest to the Southwest, with Mom and Dad in the front seat, and me and Davy in the back. We are still a half-day’s drive from our destination—my grandpa’s mobile home by the little church where he serves as the minister for some Indians. It’s late afternoon, and we have checked into a motel for the night, a few miles outside Gallup, New Mexico.

It’s not a well-known motel chain, but some family-owned joint, way off the beaten track, as if there was a beaten track out here in the desert. We’re staying in one of the eight ramshackle cottages strewn around a sagging main house.

Mom hates this place. She likes the sameness of the Holiday Inns and Best Westerns we have stayed in each night on our way here from Illinois; the hard, identical beds; the short-nap carpet; the toilet seats with their paper wrappers; the blackout curtains; the icy blast of air conditioning. This place is hot and full of odd angles with lumpy, used furniture and paint-by-numbers pictures of woodland scenes hanging on the wall. Hand-sewn curtains flutter in the open windows. She doesn’t trust the shower, a small, dark stall set back in a wall near the toilet, with a sheet of flowered plastic hanging from metal wire clips and barely covering the opening.

It’s so quiet that the bark of a dog in the gas station a quarter mile away sounds like it’s coming from right next door. It smells like something is frying in the main house. I love the funny lamp on the beat up end table by the oversized upholstered chair; it’s got a ceramic base in the shape of two bear cubs playing on a tree stump, with a shade that looks like a homemade quilt. Mom would say it was tacky. I wish I could take it home and put it in my room.

Mom and my little brother, Davy, are out getting something for dinner, while Dad and I nap on one of the two double beds, taking a rest after the long day of driving. I snuggle up close to him, against his warm, white t-shirt, and he tucks his legs up behind mine so we are spooning. The late-afternoon sun is laying soft golden squares on the wooden floor. I wish Mom and Davy would never come back from the store—at least not for a long while—so I can keep smelling Dad’s smell and keep feeling the rhythm of his breath on my shoulders.

It’s dark when I wake up. The heat and the long sweaty nap make me feel thick and lazy. A single, yellow light bulb outside casts weird shadows around the room. It’s still warm inside, but a cool evening breeze is coming in through the screens of the open windows. Dad is up, sitting in the upholstered chair, smoking a cigarette. He likes to smoke in the dark. I don’t move a muscle, just lie there for a long time, watching him take slow drags, watching the glowing orange dot make its rounds, back and forth, soft grey rings of smoke slowly dissipating in the evening breeze.

Then, with a sweep of headlights around the room, Mom and Davy are back. Dad and I hear the sound of tires on gravel, and in a flash Dad is out of his chair and into the bathroom. He shuts the door and flushes the cigarette down the toilet before Mom enters.

She switches on the overhead light and destroys the magical atmosphere. “Steve?’ she calls to him, “were you smoking in here? For crying out loud.” She fans her hand in front of her nose and makes an angry, sour face, then heads back to the car for the groceries.

Four-year-old Davy runs in, happy to be back, happy to be anywhere. He leaps up onto the nearest bed and goes into trampoline mode, jumping, jumping, jumping. His thick glasses bounce up and down on his sweaty face until they fly off, ricochet off the night stand, and land on the floor, just under the bed where I am lying.

Oh no. He’s in Dutch, and he knows it. He sinks down onto the bed, Indian-style, and puts one pudgy fist to his mouth, fighting tears. And there is Dad, standing in the doorway to the bathroom, looking down at his moccasins, also in big trouble with Mom. Two down, one to go. I’m next.

I think I can save the day. I scootch to the edge of the bed and stretch as far as I can, just barely touching the glasses with my finger, but as I make a grab for them, I accidentally push them farther under the bed. So I roll off and onto the floor and slide headfirst under the bed, reaching for the glasses, trying to save Davy’s life.

Poor kid. The screen door slams again. Too late. Here comes Mom.

“Where. Are. Your. Glasses. Young Man?” she demands to know.

“I’ve got ’em, Mom,” I call cheerfully from under the bed. “Don’t worry. Everything is OK,” I add, doubting it.

“What is the matter with you, young lady?” she says. “It’s absolutely filthy under there. You’re bound to catch something.” Then she turns her angry eyes toward Dad. “In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve all become infected with some kind of disease staying in this god-forsaken, flea-infested dive.”

I wriggle my way out from under the bed, holding the glasses out to Davy who quickly puts them on. But the damage is evident: The frames are bent and they sit at a foolish angle on his little face. He’s still holding back his tears when Dad comes over, sits down next to him, puts an arm around him, says, “It’s OK, Buddy. Just glasses,” and he touches the tip of Davy’s nose with his index finger.

Mom looks at them and harrumphs her disapproval, then switches on the bear cub lamp. She looks over at me and says, “I despise that overhead light,” and I hurry over as fast as I can to snap it off at the wall switch.

Two grocery bags sit on the small round table by the door. She takes from one a loaf of white bread, a tiny jar of Miracle Whip, a package of boloney, and a bag of potato chips.

She sighs. “Looks like it’s lunch for dinner tonight, folks. I couldn’t find a decent takeout place anywhere from here to Gallup and back again.” She begins to list the horrors of her recent errand: Twenty miles to the nearest payphone safe to use. Dirt under the nails of the cashier of a general store where they stopped for directions. The whole place smelled like sour milk. A fat Indian woman touching Davy’s blond curls without asking. Mud houses with no curtains in the windows. A dead dog covered with flies lying by the road, and half-naked children playing in dirty puddles, but not one single McDonald’s or Shakey’s Pizza the whole way.

She makes it all seem funny. As she exaggerates the facts and highlights the irony, she cracks us up—and herself, right along with us. That’s the good thing about Mom: We love hearing her stories as much as she loves telling them. She’s cheering up now, and it’s OK to relax. We all joke around, while she prepares the sandwiches using Dad’s pocketknife, and serves them up on paper towels from the gas station washroom.

Dad reaches into the other bag and pulls out two tiny bottles of Coke for us, a Fresca for Mom, and a Miller High Life for himself. He snaps them open using the bottle opener screwed to the doorjamb. Davy scrambles for the bottle caps—more for his collection.

Dad smiles, says, “Let’s all go out on the porch and enjoy this lovely feast al fresco. We might see a meteor.”

Mom says, “That’s OK. You all go ahead. I’m not really hungry.” She settles into the upholstered chair, takes a sip of Fresca, opens her thick paperback book, and, in the golden light of the bear cub lamp, becomes completely absorbed in a fictional world.

Dad and Davy and I go outside. We sit on rusty, metal chairs in the twilight. We eat our boloney sandwiches and chips, and sip our drinks under the big sky. We count the shooting stars out loud as we spot them, but we keep the wishes we make to ourselves.

……………………….

About Beth Newcomer

Beth Escott Newcomer is a Pushcart-prize nominee. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in many literary publications. She grew up on Normal Avenue in Normal, Illinois, but now lives in Fallbrook, California. To support her writing habit, she manages the Southern California-based graphic design firm she founded and helps promote her family’s cacti and succulent nursery.

Photo credit: Paul Nicholson via a Creative Commons license.

 

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On the Eve of Your 39th Birthday

By Penny Perry

for Jonathan

MoonSmileAfter you’ve put your sons to bed,
turned on their moon night light
you walk the dog. Out in the cold
your breath shoots wisps of air
ahead of you. Bailey, the terrier,
strains against her harness, snarls
at every big dog on the block.

You like these winter nights,
warm jacket, an old song
in your headphones.

Venus and Jupiter look like two eyes
above the frown of a crescent moon.

This thirty-eighth year just ending
has been a tug on an old leash
back to the past. So much you
wish you could remember:

The name of the girl with blue eyes
in 7th grade, the color of the front door
of the house on Walnut.

Time is speeding up like those cars
with wings in your sons’ cartoons.

Fog washes over the face in the sky.
In Asia, today’s paper says,
the moon was a smile.

You turn the corner to home.
Mist shines on the new blue paint
of your almost classic car.

…………………..

About Penny Perry

A three time Pushcart nominee, twice for poetry and once for fiction, my stories and poems have been widely published in literary magazines. Fiction Daily tagged my short story “Haunting the Alley,” published online in Literary Mama in August 2011.

My first collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage, was published in 2012 by Garden Oak Press. The collection earned praise from Marge Piercy, Steve Kowit, Diane Wakoski, and Maria Gillan.

I was the fiction editor for Knot Literary Magazine, a Middle Eastern literary journal. I was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute, and my movie A Berkeley Christmas aired on PBS. And, I’ve just completed a novel about a school shooting.

I write under two names, Penny Perry and Kate Harding.

Photo credit: Deb Stgo via a Creative Commons license.

 

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Being a Man

By Scott Gressitt

ScottMy teenage son sent me a writing prompt one night. He asked me, “Define a man; describe what makes a man a man, and not a boy.”

It’s interesting, having an eighteen-year-old. We are both writers and enjoy each other’s writing, and I am a man raising four young men, so one might conclude that I have some empirical evidence revealing the truths of manhood vs. boyhood. Maybe. Here’s what I know.

I am a man who was raised by a real man. A man who was a gentleman, a chivalrous, gracious, well evolved man. The things I noticed about my father were his manners in public, his care for his family at home, and his relationship with his Father in Heaven.
What made him a man was his accountability and responsibility. He was accountable to his wife, his children, his parents, his boss, his church, his friends and neighbors, and most importantly, his Savior. He was slow to make changes in our lifestyle, thoughtful about spending money, and considerate of the effect his actions and decisions had on others.

As a young man, I hit the road and summarily dismissed my upbringing and the values my family had imbued in me. It didn’t take long—bouncing into people in social settings or at work or in romantic settings—before I saw my core values irrepressibly surface.
As hard as I tried to find my own way of bending culture, the truths my father blessed me with by his manner of living remained a benchmark so clear and high, that all other positions languished in the shadows of Father’s truths.

As a teenager, I spent months walking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail; hitchhiking coast to coast, north and south. I slept in ashrams, panhandled with the STP family, worked on shrimpers, banged nails, and sought wisdom from everyone I met.
The men who spoke their wisdom often were out of step with their words. The few whom I met who walked their talks invariably sounded like Father.

I spent a week in St. Augustine, a runaway at fifteen, keeping company with two much older fellows from Montreal, Guillaume and Francois, nineteen and twenty. We scaled the walls of Fort Matanzas at night and slept in the museum beds. These guys were inventive and funny, creative and artistic. I was attracted to them. They were also pranksters and ne’er-do-wells, making ends meet by slight of hand, pick pocketing, and petty thievery. I feared for them at every moment.

I got them involved in putting together a street act to make some honest money. I played my guitar and sang badly, Guillaume sang harmony and played a stolen tambourine, and Francoise sang, danced and did monkeys shines from a slack rope we tied between two parking meters. Pretty soon, the guitar case filled up with change and bills from the amused tourists. But true to form, Francois tried to steal my share of the loot, and only kneeling on his ribs and bloodying his nose convinced him of the math I wished to see upheld.

That night, I didn’t sleep in the fort with the Frenchmen, as I feared they would take all I owned and head to Key West. When I saw them on the street the next morning, Francois had two very black eyes and I could barely maintain my composure when he sneered at me, and then grimaced from the pain of that effort. I ducked them for the next few days and worked down at the docks packing shrimp. The pay was low, but I ate seafood at every meal. They finally caught up with me, playing for quarters in front of the movie theater. They asked me to join them a few blocks closer to the tourist attractions and repeat our previous evenings antics.

I said, “Francois, I haven’t punched anybody in the nose in over a year, but if you fuck with my money again, you’d best run. And since you can outrun me, no. Find another guy. Good night.”

I got picked up by the police for vagrancy the next night. When they found out I was a runaway, they took me to the St. Augustine County Jail. They called my parents who asked how long the police were willing to keep me. The county would hold minors for two weeks, so I got three squares and a hot cot for a fortnight.

Well, Connor, Francois and Guillaume were boys, and the young cop who picked me up was a man. He was a young black man in his twenties, came from the same little town in NJ where I grew up. He had joined the Navy and, upon finishing his tour of duty, took a job as a county sheriff. He had many wise words for me on the ride to jail, and even more wisdom the day he drove me to the airport to fly home.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned about being a man:

Boys don’t accept responsibility for themselves.
Men do.

Boys are accountable to no one.
Men are broadly accountable to their families, employers, neighbors, their culture and their God.

Boys infract and point their fingers at others.
Men step forward and accept the blame when it is theirs.

Boys skulk and move in the shadows.
Men walk in the light, head high, fearing nothing, except, perhaps, displeasing their women.

Boys shrink when challenged.
Men use their heads and decide wisely how to deal with surprises.

Boys tease the girls and play with their hearts.
Men cherish their women and protect them unto death.

Boys laugh at the weak and the stupid.
Men help them along the way.

Boys run from trouble.
Men gather their babies and lovers and deliver them to safety.

Boys are cowards.
Men are fearless, for they have found where all the power in the universe is held, and they have access to it.

Boys use their mouths to tear down.
Men use theirs to build up.

Boys dabble in lust and infatuation.
Men fall in love and become the servants of their lovers.

Connor, there is so much more, but my bed calls. My bones are weary and I must rest, for tomorrow, I will again, put on the shoes of a man. You will too. You are becoming the man I always wanted to be. Keep up the good work, son.

……………………………………..

About Scott Gressitt

An amateur writer and rapscallion, I write of my past, a life laden with extraordinary events. I have walked in places most of the population avoids.  Besides scars and bruises, I’ve collected experiences that frighten, delight and entertain. I write with the intent to take you on a wild ride where all your senses are fully engaged. Enjoy.

 

 

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On vacation!

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Angelica’s Heart: Part 2

By Dan McClenaghan

ClonedPigsBBCI’d spent six months in Baja California, and now it was time to go back to the states. My new heart—the heart of a pig—pumped human blood with a youthful vigor, and the man who had financed this experiment in xenotransplantation wanted to see me with his own eyes. A Skype holograph connection wouldn’t do.

The limousine seemed to float toward the border, the engine a low hum that slipped into the subliminal. Some sort of seriously high tech suspension gave the ride a feeling of weightlessness, of no physical contact with the Earth, like a monorail. The glass shield between the driver’s and the back seats remained up, communication nonexistent. Orchestral jazz played low on an extraordinary sound system: Ellington, then Miles Davis and Gil Evans. I sipped an ice cold Negra Modelo I’d pulled from the limo’s small refrigerator and gazed out on the blackness of the Pacific, to our left, and a billion stars suspended in the dark curtain above it. Dr. Mahanthappa, my cardiologist/surgeon, sat beside me in silence. The proximity of a woman made me think about Jolene.

We’d married in our early twenties, eloping to Las Vegas to escape an overblown and ostentatious wedding catastrophe her mother was brewing up. Our marriage was a good one. We raised three kids—Sarah, Steven and Sam—before the cancer came and made surprisingly short work of the termination of the life of Jolene Phillips. I’d always thought that those things stretched out, that in the worst cases three to five years of life could be milked out after even the worst diagnosis. I’d been wrong. I’d held her hand as she passed, and I cried silent tears to the sounds of Miles Davis playing Gershwin’s “Gone, Gone, Gone” as the limousine drifted toward the bright lights sprawl of Tijuana.

Dr. Mahanthappa, sensing my mood from my grim silence, perhaps, took my hand. Her skin was cool, satiny. The touch of it was more comfort to me than she could possibly know.

The driver dug into the sluggish chaos of the border traffic. Somebody had been paid off. The limo was given access to a special lane, circumventing what looked to be a two hour wait to make the crossing. After a cursory inspection, we rolled into the United States, and I knocked on the plastic partition and said that I needed to use the rest room. The driver stayed stoic, eyes straight ahead. I thought the passenger compartment might be soundproofed, and that I might have to pee down the neck of my empty beer bottle, but in San Diego the car veered onto an off-ramp, navigated four turns on the city streets and pulled into the parking lot of a Hooters. It was then that I discovered the absence of an ability to exit the limo from the inside.

“Nice choice of restaurants,” I said to the driver who had opened the door for me. I climbed from the limo and leaned back with hands pressed into the small of my back, stretching stiff muscles and looking up at the stars, their sterile twinkling dimmed by the city’s light pollution.

“Boss’s orders,” the chauffeur said.

Dr. Mahanthappa came around the back of the limo—the driver had opened her door first—and looked up at the Hooters sign and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Who’s the boss?” I asked the driver. He smiled. He’d left the chauffeur cap inside the limo. His black pants held a knife edge crease. The knotting of his bow tie was perfect. An oval brown face that originated, genetically, in East Asia, creased at the corners of the eyes with the expression of indulgent amusement.

“You’ll find out, Mr. Phillips, soon enough.”

He gestured toward the Hooters. “You hungry? We can get a burger.”

“I’ve never been in a Hooters before.”

He held my gaze for a beat, trying to figure this out, it seemed. “You shittin’ me?”

We began our walk toward the entrance. “No. My wife, she thought they were in bad taste.”

“No disrespect to your late wife, Mr. Phillips, but I disagree.”

“Your wife was right,” said the doctor. She took my arm as we crossed the lot. My pig’s heart stepped up its pace. “Hooters,” she said, incredulous.

The driver accompanied me to the bathroom, peed at the adjacent urinal, washed his hands beside me and accompanied me back out to the dining room. We joined the doctor at the bar. “Wanna beer, Frank?”

“I suppose. Say, what’s your name?”

“Nando.”

“Nando?”

“Short for Fernando.”

“Oh.” We shook hands. It was hard to tell Nando’s age. I thought he could be anywhere between forty-five and sixty, a lean, wiry, alert yet relaxed man, confident in his vest and black bow tie, with an accent that I put from somewhere in the mean streets of Manila, Philippines Islands. That told me that Nando might have come up hard and turned out all the stronger for it.

Nando ordered two Bud-Lite drafts and two bacon and avocado burgers from a busty brunette with a Coke Bottle-shaped figure and the word “Trina” emblazoned on her name tag. Dr. Mahanthappa said that beer and bacon burgers weren’t the optimal diet for a heart patient. Then she ordered a veggie wrap and iced tea for herself. Trina poured our beers from a tap that was mounted high enough to require her to stand on her tiptoes to catch the golden flow, her perfect buns flexing beneath thin cloth. She placed the glasses, white foam overflowing slightly, onto the coasters, flashed a dazzling smile, and said, “I’ll get your iced tea, Ma’am,” to the doctor.

I sighed deeply as Trina bounced away.

“You like her?” said Nando

I turn my gaze from the girl back to the chauffeur. I’d like to have Jolene back, I thought, but I said, “Maybe if I were twenty years younger.”

“Your heart’s only a couple of years old, Mr. Phillips. We can take her with us, to meet the boss.”

I gave him an incredulous stare. “You mean you walk up to her and invite her to some strange rich guy’s house and she just drops everything and goes?”

Nando’s eyebrows slipped higher on his head. “Works about forty percent of the time. The key is dangling the right enticement.” He sipped his beer, gazing after the tightly-packaged teardrop of an ass of another passing waitress.

“You’re disgusting,” said the doctor.

“You’re a real piece of work, Nando,” I said. “But forget it.”

He nodded sagely.

Trina came back with the doctor’s iced tea. Nando ordered us two more beers. We watched the pouring operation again, and when she slid the glasses in front of us, Nando said, “Could I have a very short private talk with you, Trina?”

She looked puzzled by the request, and pleased. Nando came off as courtly rather than lecherous, and off they went to the entrance to the hallway that led to the bathrooms. In they went, Nando gesturing for her to go first. They reappeared two minutes later, both of them laughing. She touched his arm and he patted hers and they parted. Nando walked with a jaunty spring in his step back to the bar to announce that Trina had suddenly taken ill and would be leaving work early, and that we would be picking her up at her place to take her with us to see the boss.

“Just like that?” I asked, snapping my fingers.

Nando nodded, snapping his fingers in reply, and I decided not to ask exactly what the right enticement had been.

Dr. Mahanthappa added her view of the situation. “What sort of woman runs off with some little dude in a vest and bow tie, just like that?” She snapped her fingers, mimicking Nando me.

“A woman who appreciates a thousand quick bucks,” Nando said. “with the possibility of a bigger payday down the line.”

•     •     •

Trina walked by us on her way out, an oversized red purse slung over her shoulder, a black sweater hung over her arm. I stuck a bit of bacon that had dropped from my burger into my mouth as a waitress named Alex took Nando’s credit card away to pay our bill.

“I don’t believe this,” said Dr. Mahanthappa once we’d climbed back into the limo. “You know, of course,” she said, turning to me,” that he picked her up as your potential lover.”

Through the partition, I could see a map that Nando had punched up on his cell phone then transferred to the dashboard display.

“This ‘lover’ thing’s not going to happen.”

She stiffened. I turned my gaze out the side window as the limo floated onto the street. We passed a Yum Yum Donuts and a Big O Tires, then a seedy little strip mall with a dentist’s office and a place that wanted to buy my gold.

“But it must,” said the doctor.

I gave her no answer, and she filled the silence with, “Your son’s a diabetic.”

We’d never talked about that. “He is.”

“Type 1.”

I turned to her profile, silhouetted by the neon light of a Pizza Port Brewery as we sat at a stop light. “Yes. Type 1.”

“His pancreas makes no insulin.”

I stayed silent, my eyes straight ahead. She reached over and touched my wrist. “I have a baboon with a pig’s pancreas back at the Foundation. We transplanted it four months ago. She’s doing fine. She has no need of insulin anymore. She makes her own”

The light changed and Nando hit the gas. The forward thrust pushed me back in the seat. “So, if I dance to your tune, you set my son up for the first pig-to-human pancreas transplant?” I turned to look at her.

“Don’t put it that way.” Her grip tightened on my wrist.

“How should I put it?”

The doctor took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “Put it this way, Frank: With your cooperation, with a reasonable and benign, but perhaps odd and even rather unseemly request—to establish the presence of libido and the ability to copulate in a transplant recipient (that would be you, Frank)—your precious son, Sam, could be the first recipient of a pig-to-human pancreas transplant, and this beneficial program of ours, which has the potential to improve millions of lives—to save million of lives—can go on.”

She knew my son’s name. I’d never told her that. “Sounds like blackmail to me, Dr. M.”

Now the grip on my wrist tightened further, included her fingernails, digging in, like her hand had become a claw.

………………………………..

About Dan McClenaghan

I write stuff. I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and four (soon to be five) beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

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