Epiphany Magazine - epiphmag.com
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESSE
To the Reader
This is how it was told to me. I don't claim to be inspired. I don't claim to be infallible. I'm a writer. And a teacher of writing. I used to believe that the writer had all the truth. Then I believed the reader did. Now, I'm not even sure what the truth is. But I do believe in trying to tell it.
This is what Jessie said when he came down out of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. It was a cold day, below zero, and snowing. The wind was blowing steadily. He was wearing a buffalo robe. All agree to that. The robe had a hood and the rest of it went down to well below his knees, so that he was covered nearly from head to toe. Underneath, he wore some kind of an animal skin shirt and animal skin pants and animal skin boots. Whether deer or calf or something else is in dispute. All who saw him who knew the West immediately thought - Mountain Man. That, too, is now one of his names: Lord of the Mountains. Or, sometimes, Mountain Madman.
This is what Jessie said. He said it to the people in the Timberlake Bar and Grill, which is still located on same road in the same part of Idaho City, though bigger now, and with a glassed-in outside part to cater to the tourists. He came in quietly, threw back his hood, shook off the snow and ice from his buffalo robe, and spoke in that same deep, calm, strangely compelling voice that almost everyone was drawn to.
"Brothers," he said, "I've been up in the mountains a long time, and now I've come down. And I would be thankful if someone would stand me a drink, as it's cold and I have no money."
A lot more people than could have been there claim to have been there. But they all pretty much agree on what happened, so I'll tell it as if it happened this way.
One of the more contentious fellows at the bar swiveled around on his stool.
"You must be goddamn nuts, Mister," the man said, and it was said with aggressiveness and disdain, both. If you've been out West in a cowboy bar, you'll know the tone I mean.
Jessie walked slowly over to the man. He reached out with his right hand and put it over the man's hand, which was still holding his beer glass. Later, that same man was heard to say it was the coldest hand he had ever felt. Colder than ice. Colder than a dead man's hand.
"That may be, Brother," Jessie said, "but my hand is still cold, and I still don't have any money."
Maybe the man was going to say more, or slap Jessie's hand away, or stand up and face off with Jessie, but he didn't get the chance. A man named Peter Palmer, sitting by himself at one of the round, wooden tables that ringed the bar spoke up instead.
"Well, Stranger," he said. "I'll buy you a drink. A cold man is a cold man, no matter what. And so is a poor one. What'll you have?"
Jessie turned and smiled at Peter Palmer.
"Whatever you're willing to buy that will ease the cold, I'll be grateful for," Jessie said.
"A double whiskey," Peter Palmer called out to the bartender. "If that's all right with you," he said to Jessie, who by this time had moved from the man at the bar over to Peter Palmer's table.
"That's more than all right," Jessie said. "That's downright charitable."
He held out his hand to Peter Palmer.
"It's always kindness more than drink that warms a heart," Jessie said, and later Peter Palmer would say that it was the firmest handshake he'd ever felt, and that Jessie's fingers seemed to radiate heat just like those hand warming gloves you can buy.
"But the whiskey don't hurt," someone sitting at the bar called out and the others laughed.
And so it began - like so many of the stories about Jessie. A word here. A gesture there. And pretty soon everyone was listening or saying something or laughing. Then Jessie would speak and draw the whole thing together.
Jessie turned from Peter Palmer and walked back to the bar. By this time, the bartender had poured the double whiskey and had set it on the counter. Jessie came over and held the glass up to the light, turning it around slowly in his big hand, as if appraising it. Then he put it back on the counter and began to speak, not loudly, not as if making a speech, but as if he was talking to the man next to him - and maybe just a little bit louder so the man behind that man could hear, and the one behind him.
"Say a man comes down from the mountains and he's been cold a long time. Cold from the wind. And cold from the snow. And cold, too, from being alone. And he sees a tavern. And he knows there's whiskey inside the tavern. And men who are strangers. And he knows that he has no money, nothing to trade for the whiskey. And he knows that because he is a stranger and because he has no money, even though there are men inside, he will still be alone. But he goes in anyway."
As Jessie was telling this, he moved slowly up and down the length of the bar, and as he did, one by one, each of the man just quietly and naturally turned to follow him. The whole place became still. And when new customers came in, stamping their feet and making noise, right away they got a sense of what was happening and just naturally stopped talking and began listening.
"And it comes to pass, because the man is a stranger and has no money to buy his own whiskey but must beg for it, someone is angered and thinks him mad. But it comes to pass, also, that even though he is a stranger and has no money, someone else is kind and offers to buy him a drink. And because that one man was kind and generous, the stranger feels grateful and goes up to that man to shake his hand and thank him."
Once again, Jessie went over to Peter Palmer and shook his hand.
"And because of that one man's kindness, the stranger doesn't feel so much like a stranger anymore. And because he doesn't, he goes over to every man in the tavern and shakes their hand," which Jessie proceeded to do. "And by the time he's done, he's so warm, he doesn't anymore need the whiskey. Instead, he can offer it to the man who was angry, so that it will warm his heart."
And, of course, Jessie went up to the man who had yelled at him and held out the glass of whiskey.
What was the man to do? Jessie was standing before him offering the whiskey with one hand and holding the other out to shake. Everyone was watching, everyone who had just shaken hands with Jessie and had been thanked by him.
And the man, seeing the whiskey and seeing the hand and seeing everybody watching, shook the hand and drank the whiskey and even nodded and mumbled a thanks to Jessie.
"And so it comes to pass," said Jessie, smiling, "that a poor man with friends can buy a rich man a drink."
And saying that, Jessie nodded to Peter Palmer and the other men, and headed slowly for the door.
"Keep warm, Brothers," he said, and then he turned and walked out into the Idaho cold.
BIO: " I currently work at SUNY Potsdam and have recently published poetry in DEUS LOCI and drama in STAGE THIS! Volume 3"
DYLAN BEEMER'S SPELLING BEE
"We have one more speller unaccounted for. Could Dylan Beemer please come to the stage?"
In the fifth row of the audience, Dylan sunk lower into his chair, enough to hide Mrs. Freeman's face behind the head of a kid in front of him until all he could see was her poofy blonde beehive. The fourth-grade teacher's voice echoed through the elementary school's auditorium, shrill enough in the microphone to crack the baby teeth of every child in the room. Dylan thought, maybe if he could hide long enough and remain unnoticed, he could avoid the spotlight on stage and avoid the other spellers and avoid the words and their stupid letters. He could already see himself up there, could already see the bored, vacant faces of the crowd looking back at him, waiting for him to make a mistake so they could giggle and whisper and ruin his life.
"Dylan Beemer, please come forward."
Dylan took his green knit cap, the one his grammy knitted for him as a reward for being such a good little speller, and put it over his face. I-N-V-I-S-I-B-L-E, that spelled 'happiness.' He wished he wasn't the best speller in class. He wished he could have gone back in time when he was a dumb, ordinary kid who ate hot lunch with the losers and wasn't good at anything besides daydreaming -
"Dylan Beemer, this is your last chance."
Good. Maybe he really could avoid all this attention. Maybe he could finally go back to being the kid who sat in the back of the class and who wore patchy shirts his mom sewed from hand-me-downs. A-V-E-R-A-G-E, that spelled 'comfortable.'
Dylan suddenly felt a sharp jerk as the person sitting next to him pulled him up by his rainbow scarf, another gift from Grammy Beemer. He was dangled to his feet like a fish on a hook.
"Here he is, Mrs. F!"
Tommy Franks. Stupid Tommy Franks. Always helping out, always smiling at the teachers like they'd make him class president if he acted nice enough. He even had rosy, cheerful cheeks - something Dylan thought only existed on his grandmother's collectible dolls. His cheeks were shiny and weird and they scared Dylan a little, as if they were out to ruin his day and make him look like even more of a pasty dweeb than he already was.
Mrs. Freeman's eyes settled on Dylan. She smiled and an icy rod of fear struck the young boy's stomach. He slapped Tommy Franks' hand away and loosened his scarf, slowly making his way through the row to the center aisle. He could hear the other children already giggling and talking about him. He was sure by now that his ears were as red as Tommy's stupid cheeks.
Dylan climbed the stairs to the stage and kept his gaze on his tattered shoes. From the corner of his eye, he could see Mrs. Freeman impatiently tapping her chubby, high-heeled foot. He sat in the only other empty seat on the stage, in the front row next to Susan Lemar. When he was settled, the world seemed to zip back into motion after being frozen for forever. The sudden, inaudible whoosh of the earth moving again made Dylan's head sway and he felt like he had swallowed a brick.
"All right, children," Mrs. Freeman stuck her hand in the air to silence the chattering audience. She cleared her throat and the microphone squeaked. "These students on stage here are the best spellers in the school from grades one through five. The student who is the best speller by the end of the contest will win the grand prize and will go on to compete at the county spelling bee next month."
Dylan tried looking up at the spotlight. He wondered if someone was up there holding it or if a machine did it for them. He tried to look anywhere besides the audience, even focused on Mrs. Freeman's thick neck and high collar to keep the swirling motion in his stomach from going any faster.
F-E-A-R, that spelled 'sick.'
Dylan glanced at Susan Lemar as the teacher rambled on. He wanted some kind of hint that she was as nervous as he was, wanted to see a small bead of sweat drop from her temple and onto her perfectly starched dress. She caught him looking and swung her head around to meet his eyes, her braids whipping through the air. She frowned at him.
At any other time, Dylan would have felt a pang of hurt from her comment. But the pinprick of fear at the center of his gut took over and slowly blossomed into a flower of panic when he realized Mrs. Freeman had already called fifth-grader Bobby James to the microphone. Dylan closed his eyes and blocked out the sound of Bobby's perfectly pronounced letters as he spelled 'pilgrim' correctly. He felt dizzy as the crowd clapped when the speller took his seat.
"Dylan Beemer, please step forward."
C-H-O-K-E, that spelled 'relief.'
Dylan stood from his seat. One step forward and the world didn't collapse. Another step forward and he was still alive. Maybe the earth wasn't about to swallow him whole. Maybe he'd make it to the microphone in one piece. Dylan stopped when he saw a tall, skinny boy in black clothes blocking his path. He was about to swerve around him, then realized the kid wasn't a kid at all, but the stand of the microphone.
"Dylan," Mrs. Freeman said. "Your word is 'congratulate.'"
C-O-N-G, that spelled -
Dylan's mind went blank. He swallowed the dryness in his throat and the audience out before him became a blob of black tar. Words. What were words? How did they form sentences and why on earth did people use them to speak? Words were stupid. Words were pointless when everyone could already read him like a book by the sweat on his brow and the palpitations of his heart against his chest. Words were nothing but bullets in a gun, and everyone one of his classmates had their finger on the trigger.
"C-O-N-G . . ." Dylan paused. He blinked hard as his eyes adjusted to the brightness. He could see the faces of his peers now, dozens of tiny faces miles away that expected him to fail. "R-A . . ." Dylan adjusted his knit hat and remembered seeing his grammy in the audience last year, how she had smiled and waved when Dylan got his certificate and blue ribbon for passing the fourth grade. She had been so proud when she heard he won the spelling bee in his reading class. Her soft, tiny eyes lit up when he mumbled the good news to her and - man, oh man - if she only knew how much the other kids teased him about being such a nerd.
"Beemer's a wiener!" a voice called out in the audience.
The auditorium erupted in laughter. Dylan felt a hot flash wash over his body. His stomach dropped to his knees. His head weighed a million pounds. He closed his eyes and wanted to faint, F-A-I-N-T, faint. Words. Stupid words. They always did more harm than good.
"Quiet back there!" Mrs. Freeman yelled in her microphone. "Quiet, children!"
The laughter in the auditorium gradually died down and Mrs. Freeman told Dylan to go on. He opened his eyes achingly, tears choking him.
The letters flew out his mouth like hot embers. A single tear fell down his cheek and the crowd was silent, so silent, S-I-L-E-N-T. Dylan looked at his sneakers and could feel Mrs. Freeman's face staring at him pitifully. She had always been so kind to him. She had always said he was a smart boy, a boy who could do great things, a diamond on the bluff, or something like that. While the other teacher's barely said two words to him, Mrs. Freeman went out of her way to say, "Dylan, you're special."
Dylan. You're a bright boy.
Dylan. Spelling can take you far in life.
"I'm sorry, Dylan," Mrs. Freeman said. "That is incorrect."
A ripple of giggles echoed in the room. Dylan glanced at Mrs. Freeman and she was gripping the microphone so tight, her knuckles were white. He thought he saw tears in her eyes, but maybe it was just the light playing tricks. Guilt washed over Dylan's heart like a hungry ocean, until a new tide brought a different feeling: anger. Mrs. Freeman should have known this was going to happen. She should have known that some kids are just plain average, that spelling is dumb and it's meant for people like Susan Lemar and her pretty plaid dress, not Beemer the Wiener. It was her own stupid fault for believing in him. He felt sorry for her.
Dylan turned slowly and walked across the stage to the stairs, his body numb and his mind blank of anything but the pulsating letters he had blurted out. Susan Lemar brushed past him on her way up to the mic, her girly scent of cookies and dirt wafting in his face. Dylan chanced a look at her, expecting smirk or a dirty remark, but she said nothing. Her honey eyes flickered to his face, then looked away.
Dylan descended the small flight of stairs and made his way back to his seat in a haze. The children around him didn't say anything, not even Tommy Franks with his stupid red cheeks.
S-T-U-P-I-D, that spelled, 'Dylan.'
"Susan." Mrs. Freeman's voice cracked. "Your word is 'definitely.'"
Dylan looked at his teacher and she stared back. Her brows were knitted, stitching her face in a sad frown. He pulled his green knit cap over his eyes, slumped into his chair, and gazed up at Susan. She would probably win the spelling bee. She would probably make Mrs. Freeman proud in a way Dylan never could have. He felt the prickle of tears forming in the corners of his eyes.
C-O-N-G-R-A-T-U-L-A-T-E, he thought. That spells congratulate.
BIO: Carrie Gagne is a graduate of Hamline University with a degree in English and creative writing. Her work has appeared twice in Hamline's literary journal, The Fulcrum, and in 2009 she was a semi-finalist in the national Norman Mailer College English Awards for Creative Nonfiction. She spends her days punching numbers into a computer and applying to graduate school.
THE BAREFOOT GRANDFATHER
William C. Blome
When long ago Sammy's barefoot grandfather came out on the screened porch after dinner and Sammy would hear the door bang behind him as he sank into his wicker rocker, filled his pipe with tobacco, and soon swayed beneath puffs of fragrant smoke as he slowly described to Sammy how difficult it had been in the south Pacific aboard a destroyer at warm day's end to tell the difference between heat lightning on the horizon and the flashes of faraway big guns firing fleet-to-fleet without a sound, Sammy never reckoned the memory would be so vivid as to last a lifetime, but so it had, as Sammy, now a vacationing senior on a cruise in the Caribbean, wondered the very same thing as he beheld from the upper deck pulses of distant and quiet light.
But what puzzled Sammy now and what Sammy just couldn't be sure of was how long the world had been at war. He figured he may especially have this problem because a fun part of being on vacation meant you didn't have to watch TV news or read a newspaper; but you would figure, Sammy pondered, that someone around you would bring up an event that important in conversation. Yet no one on the cruise had said a word, and Sammy had been virtually surrounded by others for most of the trip. Sammy knew the world had not been at war when he left Florida three days ago to begin his vacation, but he decided he wasn't going to get anywhere by mere self-absorption and dwelling on the issue. He concluded that the thing to do was to directly solicit and get the judgment of other passengers as to whether or not the world was at war (and therefore whether it was combat or heat lightning that tonight had intermittently illuminated the now-black western sky).
Over the two remaining days of the cruise, Sammy randomly asked eight different people whether or not the world was at war, and he got answers that ranged from "No way, Jose" and "Not that I know of" and "Enjoy the sun, the sea, and the food, Pops, and don't cause trouble on vacation" to "You know, sometimes it's best not to probe too deeply into the unknown" and even "When the fuck haven't we been?" For the remainder of the cruise, Sammy grew saturnine and taciturn over his inability to come up with anything definitive, but on the day following his vacation - on the first morning Sammy woke and got out of his own bed and slid into his own breakfast nook and crunched English Muffins popped from his own toaster - by the time he finished eating, Sammy reasoned that things had begun to snap into place. The world was not at war, and he consciously and independently decided that no matter how long it might take, he would begin right now the business of purging as many memories as he could of his troublesome, barefoot grandfather.
BIO: William C. Blome is a writer of short fiction and poetry. He beds down nightly in-between Baltimore and Washington, DC, and he is an MA graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. His work has previously seen the light of day in such little mags as Amarillo Bay, Prism International, Taj Mahal Review, Pure Francis, Salted Feathers and The California Quarterly.
by Dan Williams
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Every time I look up, there's a tie poking me in the eye. It's just dangling there, and I can't reach far enough to grab it. I'm sitting on tiny mounds of high-heeled shoes. It's dark, but there's a slanting light coming through from the bedroom outside.
"You done?" Veronica, my wife, yells.
I feign deafness; I'm not going to answer her until she says she's sorry.
"Fine," she says, "sit in the closet until you die then."
I swear to God I will, on spite.
Three hours ago, during our heated discussion of her lavish lifestyle that we no longer could afford, she vehemently told me to shut up and leave her alone. So, two hours ago, unannounced, I disappeared into the closet in our bedroom, a bag of pretzels under my arm, a can of grape soda in my hand.
And I'm not coming out till I hear her apologize.
I hear Remy, my Labrador, scratching at the closet door. "Go away, Remmy." He yelps, presumably lays down, waiting for my grand exit.
I have to piss; that's the only problem. I'm pondering pissing all over Veronica's shoes - for dramatic effect. But, for the moment, I'm holding it in, thinking of happy things like rainbows and butterflies, trying, in my best Zen way, to forget about the river of urine trammeled in my bladder.
It's all her fault, too, which makes it worse. Really, it's her fault that my bladder is going to rupture and I'm going to die from the internal piss that will inevitably deluge my organs with its toxins. If she would have just stopped buying all the shoes, clothes, and makeup - all that girl bullshit - I'd never have broached the cost-cutting conversation.
This sucks, I think. My life sucks.
I hear her start the vacuum. Remmy scratches at the door again, whimpering.
I imagine the headline in the paper: Husband Kills Himself to Spite His Wife.
And I will take it that far. I'll grow cobwebs and wither away, letting my bones ossify and my fingernails grow to like a zillion feet...but then there's tomorrow...which brings a big problem...work.
However, when my wife falls asleep, I can call Ted, my supervisor. Surely, he'd understand. Ted, I'll say, I just had to show the woman that money doesn't grow on trees. You understand, right? Yes, that's right, sir, I'm taking a personal day to spend in my closet.
My wife shuts the sweeper off. "Still in there?" she yells.
Like I'm going to answer.
I titter to myself. She's probably worried that I'm not all right, that I'm suffocating in here, that I'm dying. Remmy barks when he hears my laughter.
"Be quiet, Remmy," I whisper.
He barks again.
I hear the microwave start.
The darkness in here feels good, like a little haven, where the rest of the world can't see me and pollute me with their negativity and carping. I could probably fit three of me in here, so I can't complain about room. It's the shoes that's the biggest comfort problem though - -protuberances are stabbing every inch of my body.
I stretch out more, supine on a bed of heels and sneakers and slippers. I pop a few pretzels in my mouth, take my last swig of soda, and close my eyes. I'm thinking of anything to take my mind off peeing myself: the bills; baseball; and Cindy, the secretary at the office.
I wonder how old Cindy is. She's got to be a few years younger than me, maybe thirty six.
Last month, when we all went to happy hour after work, I remember how her breasts grazed my arm every time she reached across the bar for more peanuts.
Cindy and me sitting in a tree...k-i-s-s-i-n-g...first comes love then comes marriage then comes...
I really have to pee. I mean, how long can a human hold it in for? Even Remmy goes in the house sometimes when he just can't hold it any longer.
"I'm going to the store," announces, while doing something in the bedroom, maybe changing her shirt or her bra or adding makeup in front of the vanity. "Need anything?" she adds.
I giggle, but not a fat chance in hell I'll respond. She knows I need lunch meat and bread for the work week, but I'd rather starve than answer - and truthfully, I may have to even quit my job, because if she doesn't say those magical words then no way is this ever ending.
Maybe she'll apologize before she leaves for the store and then it'll all be over and I can run to the bathroom.
On the other hand, if she goes to the store, I'm free to leave the closet till she returns. I can wait, peeking through the curtains, till she pulls back into the driveway, and then I can scamper back to my little nest.
"Maybe I won't go to the store," she says musingly to herself, but obviously intended for me to hear. "I'm kind of tired."
I hate her. I really think I do. I may not even like one thing about her anymore. Not her newly wrinkled face or her pendulous breasts or even her cellulite-riddled thighs. I hate it all.
I should have divorced her ten years ago after she threw out all my old records and books, deeming them garbage, saying I needed to grow up.
Suddenly, I feel insuperably tired. Tiny flashes of Cindy start flitting through my head: in a bikini, in the tub, nude.
My mind is going somewhere: jumbled images, garbled voices, scenes changing. I feel my deep inhalations, soft exhalations...
When I wake up, I hear nothing. No vacuum or microwave or even Remmy. The house seems empty. There's piss all over my pants, my stomach, and pools of it in the heels of the shoes around my groin. The closet feels smaller now, more occupied, less hospitable.
I feel the need for her, like something depends on her, like I want to start anew with her. I feel like I want to love her again.
"Baby..." I yell. "Veronica?"
I slide the closet door open, crawl out, and stand up. The bedroom's dark, except for the clock on the nightstand flashing: 00:00.
The house is funereal and silent. The floorboards creak below my feet as I walk to the kitchen. "Veronica...Remmy..."
I turn the light on in the kitchen.
There's a note, written on a yellow legal pad on the kitchen table: I'm done. Took the dog. Going to my mom's. Have a good life.
"Remmy..." I call out again, futilely.
I turn off the light and walk back to the bedroom. I step into the closet again, the heels of my feet are immediately wet from the tepid piss. A pang of hunger echoes in my stomach.
But I'm not going to eat.
I'm not sure if I'll ever eat again.
I close my eyes and think of Cindy again, naked. She's with me in the closet, her head on my chest, telling me she loves me and wants my children. Then the flashes start again, those jumbled images.
Until, again, I feel nothing at all.
"I have a B.A. in writing and work as a technical writer in Pennsylvania. I've had work accepted by Enigma, Steam Ticket, Down in the Dirt, The Oak, AntiMuse, Barfing Frog Press, The American Drivel Review, Transcendental Visions, Poetry Motel, The Lampshade, Cherry Bleeds, Zygote in my Coffee, Dispatch, Straylight, Lalitamba, The Cherry Blossom Review, SubtleTea, Backwards City Review, Wisconsin Review, Midway Journal, The Foliate Oak, Gloom Cupboard, The Griffin, Seven Circle Press, South Jersey Underground, Wilderness House Literary Review, Xenith, Word Catalyst, and The Hamilton Stone Review."
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
Charlotte was, to say the least, rather cranky. I realized that as we were sitting together, eating a thus far uneventful meal. Something just seemed to be bothering her. She was only picking at her food, and when I tried to have her open up to me, she would shoot me a look that blatantly said, "Are you stupid?!" Just days before, she had gleefully exclaimed that she was pregnant. Now it was as though my very existence was simply a burden.
She sipped quietly from her juice. She awkwardly cleared her throat, then looked up with a stubborn expression. "I think we need a break."
The words came crashing down as I struggled to comprehend what she was saying. I blubbered out the only words I could manage, "But why?! This is a joke, right? I'm going to be a dad, and you drop this on me now?! Come on, Charlotte. No. We can fix this."
"Rak, we've been together for a long time, and I think I just need a change of pace. It was real; it was fun, but it wasn't really fun." She patted me on the head and turned to walk away from me. She was going to just saunter out of my life. The thought was asphyxiating me.
"Charlotte! Wait! Just - just hang on! We can work this out! Tell me what I'm doing wrong and I'll fix it!"
I reached for her. God, she was so beautiful. Her arm, that was covered with rough skin, but ended with long, gentle fingers that could caress and love, brushed the tips of my hand. Her midnight hair blended in with her exotically dark skin, which was offset by a bright red birthmark. To some, it would be a disfigurement. On Charlotte, it was stunning. Light reflected off the silver bridge where we had had our dinner. It made her all the more gorgeous.
"Charlotte... I think I love you!" I blurted out like an idiot.
She turned. With an exasperated rolling of her eyes, she replied."Well, that's just unfortunate. I was just going to do this the easy way, but you always have to make things so much harder on yourself."
She lunged forward and sunk her teeth into me. At that point I realized that we were officially over.
The woman leaned back in her seat and rubbed her bleary eyes with the exhaustion that comes from trying to understand a theory that continues to evade you. A lack of sleep and a lack of caffeine contributed to her fatigue. It was late. Night had already passed into early morning, but no matter how long she studied the subject, she could never cease to be fascinated. Her mind was always whirling, working to prove something new. At the same time, though, her body had its limits.
She sighed as she went to brew another pot of coffee.
In a glass box on her desk, a large, black spider with bright red hourglass slowly devoured a smaller, brown spider. The nameplate on the desk read: "Dr. Laura Reeves: Arachnologist."
BIO: Lexi Schlamp was born in Canada, but currently resides in Louisiana, where she attends the
Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts. This is her first creative writing submission.
James Vanden Akker
The man who caught my attention drove a gleaming luxury car and lived in a house in the hills. He was handsome in the way all thin young men seem to be. I was a young man too - in my early thirties though I suspected him to be still younger - but I didn't have his casual attractiveness. One could gaze upon him and presume he had everything, that he lived a life of unsurpassed privilege. It is, however, unfair to make such assumptions when unaware of what may occur within the walls of his beautiful home.
Not that I suspected nefariousness from him. In fact I couldn't imagine his open face, which always appeared on the verge of a smile, capable of spouting ugliness.
I was visiting my boyfriend and searching for parking on the street when I first saw him. It was early evening one weekday in November. He had just pulled into the curved driveway and was exiting his car. I was struck by his youth and pleasing looks. Momentarily distracted, I watched his relaxed gait from vehicle to doorway and caught a quick flash of wedding ring glinting in the descending sun.
Immediately I imagined the unknown aspects of his life. Tiny quotidian details made more lush by their chimerical nature. I saw him and his nubile wife at their dark oak dinner table, meal fresh and a touch exotic, exchanging stories of their day and unconsciously brushing one another's hand when making a point. Eyes sparkling with still energetic love. Something eluding me in my relationship.
In my mind I could see him leave for work, after a lingering kiss goodbye, on his way to the job that enabled his lovely life. A miraculous job likely involving advertising or computers or campaigns or some modern combination thereof.
I pictured them on sunny Saturdays going to parties at the homes of their beautiful friends. Or on occasion, visiting their beaming parents where they playfully demur in talk about having children.
And there was more of course.
Because of the slackening of my union with Marc, I had a great deal of time to indulge in fanciful sprints of imagination.
Marc had been renting the house a few doors down for three months, half the time we'd been together. I assisted with the cleaning out of his old place but not with the set up of the new. Though I volunteered to take the day off work he insisted otherwise, which was disappointing because I wanted to be all things to him. I was also saddened from the fact that I much preferred his old place, though I suspect now it was mainly because he was still hungry for me in the early days when he lived there.
One night, driving to one of Marc's work functions I asked if he knew his young neighbor. We'd just rolled off the driveway and I pointed to his house as we passed. He wasn't familiar with him but perked up when I revealed some details. The close proximity of a cute man always revved Marc's interest. I was grateful this subject proved to be a mutual delight between us. It was minor but I clung to it as my solidifying suspicions were otherwise drowning me.
By the time I first spotted the man, I was only visiting Marc once a week. Oftentimes, the curved driveway four doors down would be occupied, occasionally not; I could never figure out his schedule. Some evenings when Marc would fall asleep in front of the TV following dinner I'd go for a short walk around the neighborhood. I used to think it was to shake off the melancholia but I also know I wanted to lay eyes on that mysterious fellow. I would usually walk at a very slow pace, aimless and preoccupied with my unreciprocated desire. Each time I'd pass his house, however, I'd always linger just a tad, glancing into whichever window was alight. I caught glimpse of him once, head and chest framed in the amber glow of what appeared to be his kitchen. Head down, maybe washing dishes, he turned and said something over his shoulder. When he turned back around he was grinning, still looking down. He seemed to embody someone who's done everything right. Someone for whom every decision yielded success. He remained at the window for only a few remaining seconds before stepping away. His departure made me feel suddenly lonely.
I ambled back into Marc's house and could hear the TV as soon as I walked in. I breathed deep as I dragged my feet down the hallway, avoiding looking at the hanging pictures of him in the company of various smiling men. Yearning to be one of them but gradually relinquishing that dream. The hallway opened onto the living room lit only by the flickering images onscreen. Marc still asleep, never snoring. I turned the set off as I passed and slowly sunk to the couch, careful not to wake him. I scooted over and leaned my head against his ribs, resting my hand on his stomach. At my touch he stirred awake and rose immediately. Looking at his watch he asked how long he'd been out but was already headed toward the bedroom before I could answer.
Each morning when I'd leave I would always hope to see the neighbor but it never seemed to happen. I'd only catch him at twilight, when I'd arrive after work, or that one time through the window. I'm not sure how many times in all I actually saw him but it was likely less than five, yet it felt like more since I was always hoping to see him. I suppose at the time I needed something to hope in and transferring it to him was a bittersweet diversion.
One evening I was delayed at work and arrived a little later than usual. I stepped from my car parked in front of Marc's, the diminishing orange light outlining the mountains as if on fire. Practically on cue, dual beams began illuminating the road from up ahead. I remained where I was as the approaching lights brightened. Feeling exposed, I had a desire to run inside as if caught misbehaving, but I stayed my ground. His headlights landed upon me and then quickly swept across as he turned into his drive. For a split second I was in the spotlight and then no more. I blinked away the momentary blindness and watched him exit his car again, just like when I saw him the first time. Now it was obvious I was staring. He saw me as he shut his driver's side door. I felt naked and nervous in that instant. He offered one of those requisite eyebrow raises with a half smile we sometimes give as a silent acknowledgement. It lasted for about one second - I hardly had time to respond - before he spun on his heel and bounded to his door with the carefree zest of the well-adjusted.
The morning I left Marc's house for the final time I saw him once more. I was heading toward the freeway, emotions a heavy gray mass, when I witnessed him and his wife exiting the little diner on the corner. I paused at the stop sign in front of the restaurant, peering out my windshield through the light rain. Though I couldn't make out her face clearly, his wife looked to be as blonde and thin as imagined. I watched him open his umbrella, pull her close, and step from under the awning in one magical gesture. They continued a few yards to that gleaming car parked at the curb. He held the umbrella over her as she slid into the passenger side. There was undeniable charm in such casual chivalry.
I was slapped by a mammoth sense of loss at that moment. Seeing that mystical man drive away I had a mad urge to chase after him. He was so beautiful and blessed. Instead, I maneuvered my car into the spot he just vacated. Sitting there, slouching with grief, the sobs began to emerge.
BIO: "I am a freelance writer currently living in Corona and some of my pieces have appeared in DIRECTION, the sfv news, realTALK LA, the now defunct The District Weekly, and others. I have just applied to a handful of graduate writing programs with plans of getting my MFA in Fiction. In fact, this story was part of my submitted writing sample."
MIRROR OF ME
What I saw in the mirror was a mashed potato, trying desperately to stuff itself into a pair of designer jeans. What a joke. These jeans were made for thin girls on runways, not for lumpy girls like me. "Do you have any bigger sizes?" I asked the sales clerk over the dressing room curtain.
She sighed. "That's the largest we carry."
I snapped the curtain open, displaying myself to her. Her jaw dropped. She was a dumb little thing, a brunette with too many blonde highlights, stick-thin and made-up like a clown; she looked all of fifteen. But then, it was a school day, so she couldn't be that young.
"Then why can't I button them up?" I asked, in frustration. "Why are all these jeans so small? They're made for little girls!"
"Well, I've never had a problem getting into them," she said, smartly, smacking her gum and twirling her hair. "Maybe you should try the men's jeans."
I leaned forward and peeked around the store. I was the only customer. It was just me and this little scamp. So I took the pants off right in front of her, just to give her a shock. Oh, it was a job alright. I had to push and wiggle and grunt to get them to my knees. And of course, the ankles were too tight to slip over my womanly feet, so I lifted one leg at a time and pulled them off inside-out, nearly falling twice in the process. I said, "Like what you see? Well, get a good look 'cause your ten years away from it." Then I yanked the curtain back into place and redressed in private.
Five minutes later, I stormed out of the store, belligerent and scorned, in my trusty Sassoon's.
I found Bisquick where I'd left him, tied to the Siamese standpipe on the sidewalk. He jumped all over me as I untied him. I gave him a pat on the head and said, "Let's get some ice cream, huh."
Bisquick's tongue dangled over my thigh, his breath was hot and musty, like any Labrador's. I pushed him away and told him to stop melting my sundae.
"Bisquick, how did I become so pathetic? Look at me!"
He did. Then he got excited and jumped into my lap. "Hey!" I exclaimed. I pushed him down and, of course, I dropped my ice cream. "Damn it, Bis!"
Had someone not called my name, I might have opened the floodgates right then and there. I wanted so badly to cry.
"Rowen? Rowen Chechowsky?"
The voice was familiar, in a forgotten sort of way, and her face . . . I recognized it but couldn't place it.
"I'm Kate Hartsen," she said. "Your old roommate at Michigan. Do you remember me?"
In a flash it all came back: art school, Birkenstock sandals, house parties and aerosol paint cans at four a.m.
I stammered. "Kate?"
"Yes!" she cried. "It's me." She pulled up a chair. "My god, I can't believe it! How are you?"
I couldn't help but notice how fashionable she had become, in leather and jeans and tall riding boots. Her hair was healthy, all silk and butter. And her freckles had faded to mere dapples of light, a far cry from the pocks that once tortured her. She was curvy as ever, but, unlike me, her curves were still in the right places.
A smile overtook me. How good it was to see my old friend.
"Well, what are you up?" Kate asked. "Do you live in the area? Are you still making art? God, I wish I would have known you were still in Michigan. I would have looked you up."
I was happy to tell her about myself, for I'd done quite well in some respects. "I have a condo at Sherwood, you know, the new suburb in south Dearborn? And yes, I still paint; I've even sold a few. My job? Oh, I'm a desk clerk at the DMV, but you know, that's just to pay the bills. Starving artists forever, right?"
Kate smiled. And what a refreshing smile she had! "I'm doing well, too," she said, but then she frowned and glanced at her watch. "Rowen, I'm sorry but I have an appointment that I'm already late for. Can we get together another time? Oh, I want to see you again. I know the Sherwood community; my mother lives near it. Maybe I could stop by. Are you free some night this week?
"Yes," I said. "Come over. How about Friday? I'll make dinner."
She rummaged through her purse for paper and a pen. "Here," she said, after scribbling on it, "call me, or send me an email with your address. Is seven alright?"
That evening, my friend Cal came over to keep me company while I cleaned my house. He sat on the couch with his feet on the coffee table, cracking peanuts and slurping pop from a straw. "What did you say her name was?"
"Kate Hartsen," I repeated, for the third time in the last hour.
"Kate Hartsen," said Cal. He furrowed his brow. "It sounds so familiar. I've heard it before."
"Well, I'm sure I've talked about her. We were best friends for two years."
"No, that's not it. You've never talked about her to me." He jumped up and started a search on the computer.
"Oh come on." I swatted him with the duster. "What for?"
He said, "Wait a minute," and held up his finger like he had an idea. "Ah ha, here she is! Kate Hartsen. Look, she's engaged to this guy, a Hollywood agent: Jeremy Michaels. I knew I'd heard her name recently."
Cal was obsessed with celebrity news, so it was no surprise he knew of Jeremy Michaels, or to whom Jeremy Michaels was engaged.
"She's famous, you know. She's like some big-time artist. She gets shows in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles."
I stared at the screen, dumbstruck. "But... what's she doing in Michigan if she's such a big shot?"
Cal shrugged and turned back to the computer. "Maybe we can find out." He searched around until he found what he was after:
The Detroit Institute of Arts Honors a
Kate Hartsen Unveiled
Show opens September 26, 7:00 p.m.
~ Reception for members ~
"A week ago," said Cal. "So that's what she's doing here."
My chance meeting with Kate that afternoon, which had lifted my spirits entirely, now felt as threatening as a lead ball swinging toward me from a crane. "She didn't tell me all this," I said.
"Hmm," said Cal. "She's humble. That's nice."
"But, Cal, I told her everything about me and I told her proudly, about my condo in Dearborn and my job at the DMV. I made it seem like I was a success."
I turned from him and realized that the sight of my house was another reason to panic. It was a disaster. It was a jumble of clutter under a layer of dog hair. It was a garbage can in the kitchen with fruit flies swarming around it, and a bedroom that looked more like a dirty-clothes hamper than a place to rest one's head; it was a bathroom that hadn't been scrubbed in a year, and a hallway that acted as an attic. It was cobwebs and stains and creaky floorboards and dusty drapes. My house was an embarrassment, just like me.
I gasped and turned to Cal. "Cal, I told her I'd sold some of my paintings."
"Well, you have," he said with ease.
"Yeah, at a garage sale!" I plopped into a beanbag chair on the floor and cupped my head in my hands. "Oh, Cal, I can't have her visit. She's rich, she's perfect. She's beautiful. What am I in comparison?"
Cal sat on the floor next to me. He rubbed my back. "Settle down, Ro. She was your friend, right? She wants to get together with you."
"She'll laugh at the irony," I sobbed. "Eight years ago we were pot-smoking outcasts who listened to Bob Marley and braided each other's hair. Look at us now. She's a success and I haven't done anything with my life! Look around. I live in a sty. My life is a sty. I'm a clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles for god's sake!"
"Hey, it takes a champion to do what you do. Cheer up." Cal paused for a moment. Then he grabbed my wrists and pulled me to my feet. "Come on," he said. "I'll help you."
But I was too far gone. "It can't be done, Cal."
"Excuse me, but you're talking to a gay man. Throwing dinner parties is what we do. And we're damn good at dressing to impress, so don't insult me. We'll make you a star. Get up and send her an email. Tell her to bring Jeremy."
Cal did most of the work, but isn't that how it goes when good people help those of us in need? "Get your ass moving," he cried, all night. "Chop, chop," he said. Clap, clap, went his hands. He chased me with the feather duster and threatened to steal my David Bowie albums if I didn't get the bathroom scrubbed by one a.m. We turned up Best of Cher and ordered pizza. It was a cleaning bonanza and it was worth every drop of sweat and every inhalation of ammonia, for when Friday night arrived, my condo glistened like a palace.
Cal wore a burgundy-colored shirt, ironed and starched, and tucked neatly into black pants. He smelled of Fendi and glowed like he'd just come from the gym. For my part, I wore silver earrings, a necklace to match, and black clothes, for the slimming factor.
I locked Bisquick in the laundry room and lit some candles. The salad was set and a bottle of Chardonnay chilled in the ice bucket. I had salmon warming in the oven, awaiting sprigs of rosemary and drizzles of oil. The sides included boiled red potatoes and haricot vert. Dessert would be vanilla ice cream under a layer of melted Dutch chocolate. And the end-all was a dark-roasted coffee, freshly ground and ready to brew.
The doorbell rang.
I glanced at Cal. He took a deep breath and moved his hands like a yogi teaching relaxation. "Easy," he said.
I followed his instructions. I exhaled. "Easy," I said. Then I opened the door.
Kate was alone. Her eyes were puffy, her face was swollen, and her mascara was spattered.
"He left me," she cried. And she pushed past me into my house. "Damn him!" She fell onto the couch beside Cal. "He's been cheating on me all this time. Oh, I never should have come here. I'm sorry to burden you, but I didn't know where else to turn. I hate my life. My life is a mess. I've done nothing useful with it"
She then looked around and, for a moment, stopped crying. She spoke softly: "Rowen, your house is really nice. Did you paint that?"
Cal had hung it the night before; he said it was one of my best. "Yes," I said, with a blush. I'd never received a compliment from an accomplished artist before and it felt odd, and nice.
"Oh!" she wailed, and her head fell miserably back into her hands. "I'm done. My life might as well be over."
I rubbed her back and said, "Shhh, it will be alright. You're an artist, people love you. Things will work out." Then I looked at Cal, and we snickered at the irony.
BIO: Erica Sopha is a new writer. Epiphany -epiphmag.com is pleased to have been one of the first publications to publish her work.
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