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Zelda’s Lament: F. Scott and the Priest

September 19, 2010 4 comments

Rockville, MD

 

Eddie had moved into a downtown condo sublet right out of an eleven month stay at an institute for patients with dual-diagnosed psychiatric problems, because he was making some bucks and the state decided they needed the bed so they could get another commitment for another twelve month dole out from the feds. They accused him of making the place a free hotel for the last two months, forgetting that the treatment plan was for three to four months working in the outside world before being unleashed on them. He tried to get into a cheaper garden apartment style place, but that required references and a credit check. Eddie could get over the first, a few close friends stuck by him through his fuck-ups, but the credit couldn’t be covered by any such like financial institutions.

So Eddie took this sublet from a very enticing Cubana woman, reminding him of calmer days in the tropics years ago, who was about to marry Eddie’s mirror image, if Eddie had walked the straight and narrow and listened to his elders rather than his elder’s teachers, such as James Joyce, Bernard Malmud, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. They also didn’t want to start off their marriage hovering nine stories atop, unknown to Eddie, of the coming two-year relentless pounding of pile-drivers and jackhammers that would accompany the re-building and expansion of the decaying downtown into one of those Disney versions of the ideal mix of old-time charm and modern convenience, all facade and no heart and soul.

As it developed, that didn’t bother Eddie much, a little city noise was welcome after an almost year sojourn amidst deer and birds and fellow travelers of self-induced inactivity. It even provided a bit of serendipitous joy as the city used the empty pit below him for their after Hootie & the Blowfish Memorial Day concert fireworks. The bombs burst in thin air but fifty yards flat across his glass enclosed half hexagon shaped balcony room one story higher and rained on him sights and sounds not seen nor heard since the days of Jimi and a tab.

It being Memorial Day, with a good meal and the intoxicating display over, Eddie decided to make his first visit to F. Scott and Zelda’s grave a few blocks away a midnight one. The grave was in an old, small churchyard, now closed to new dearly or not so dearly departed, for lack of space. It was situated in a vee formed by the angled crossing of the two major six-lane roads in the town that Eddie likened to Stern’s Oakland. It once had been part of one of the generations held gracious estates that since the sixties were slashed up and sold to developers for the mind-numbing sameness of modern utility. The institute Eddie was just released from also rested on one of these plots, the state wisely keeping the fair citizens and the guests of the state safely buffered from each other by woods and a little used city golf course.

No one else was there at such a day and hour, the beers safely in their bellies to compete for elimination the next morning with the hot sausages and burnt steaks. Eddie wanted the gratification of the company of another boat against the current, dead or alive. The graves seemed to be in disrepair, decaying a bit with time, the ships quote that was inscribed still being borne back ceaselessly into the past. The missing sounds of rude traffic and the whooshing of the few tall century old trees’ leaves in a stiff spring breeze further bore Eddie back to when time mattered here.

Upon his return, his neighbor’s head emerged from the next door as he said night to some well-dressed guests. He saw Eddie walking the hall in deep thought, and invited Eddie in for a nightcap. Not really in the mood, he figured he has to live next to the guy and isn’t this what his re-entry into the world of nowhere was all about?

The neighbor was jovial, and recapped his day with gusto. When it was Eddie’s turn he figured he would tell it backward, and wanted to tell someone, anyone, of his last hour of introspection.

The neighbor looked up with surprise when he heard the location. He asked Eddie if it was St. Mary’s.

“Yes it is, just down the street.”

“Oh! I am a priest there, part time for the last two years, in the new church right next to the old one.. F. Scott Fitzgerald is really buried there?”

Eddie later found out that there had been a large flap over the interment of Zelda in the family plot, and after reburials and threatened lawsuits, she was quietly allowed to be laid to rest next to F. Scott, left to disappear with the faded letters of their names on the cold stones, boats slowly disappearing into the void of the horizon.

Marjory’s bag

September 2, 2010 7 comments

“Wondered if I could get your thoughts on a matter of some delicacy?”
“By all means, dear boy. Fire away”
“About ladies’… *ahem*… bags.”
“Bags, eh? More port, Godfrey?”
“Don’t mind if I do. Most kind.”
“Bags, you say?”
“Yes. Marjory’s bag in particular.“
“Not sure I’m much of an authority on bags, dear boy.”
“Nor me. Part of the problem really.”
“What seems to be the trouble?”
“Marjory’s bag. Not what it was.”
“What it was?”
“When we met. She had a very nice little bag back then. New one.”
“Something special?”
“Special? No, no. Quite the contrary. Rather plain, neat, very charming. Discrete, you might say.”
“This really is an excellent cigar.”
“Thank you.”
“Terrible about Fortescue, by the way.”
“Awful.”
“And the cricket.”
“Oh, let’s not.”
“No.”
“Between you and me, I’m quite fascinated by bags. Out of admiration of course, nothing sordid.”
“Of course not, who would suggest such a thing?”
“Really quite astonished at what the Missis has managed to produce out of such a tiny bag over the years. Capacity wise. All things considered it’s lasted rather well.”
“Goodness yes, sometimes Audrey produces entire picnics from hers.”
“Picnics? I…That’s to say, when I say bag, what I mean to say is…”
“Oh I see! Oh good gracious, how silly I am. Terribly sorry.”
“My fault entirely.”
“So, of course, Marjory’s bag…”
“Become a little worn. Rather thin and bashed about. Which I understand is not unusual for ladies d’un certain age. So I suggested she got a new one.”
“I say.”
“Yes. Know a chap. you see: Staughton. He’s in the business, as it were, very respectable. Gave his wife a new one last month. By all accounts they’re both quite delighted.”
“Well then, that sounds like just the ticket. Perhaps I should speak to Audrey about it too.”
“Marjory was most put out.”
“Oh?”
“She says that new bags are terribly nouveau. Said that her bag is perfectly serviceable. An extravagance, she called it. Spent the rest of the afternoon lopping the heads off flowers.”
“Good gracious. Nouveau, did she say?”
“Terribly nouveau.”
“My word, old boy, it’s a minefield.”

Godfrey’s penis

August 29, 2010 10 comments

“First had the suspicion the penis was shrinking the morning after Jeremy’s wedding.”

“How was it, old boy? Good do?”

“Yes, yes, very smart. Excellent service.”

“Good-oh. So, the penis, you say?”

“Yes. Bit of a shrinkage situation.”

“Had a chap out to look at it?”

“No. Doctors are terribly busy these days, doesn’t seem appropriate to bother them with penis deflation. Wouldn’t you say?”

“Well, yes, when it’s put like that…”

“After all, one expects some attrition with age.”

“We’re not the young men we were.”

“Way of the world.”

“Yes. Yes.”

“Surprised, though, how noticeable the difference was. It was rather…”

“Rather?”

“Abrupt.”

“Goodness, that does sound a tad alarming, if I might say so.”

“Thought at first it was perspective; a little wide around the midriff these days.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, in percentage terms, what sort of a, um, reduction have you experienced?”

“Percentage? Oh my dear boy, there’s hardly any of it left.”

“Nothing?”

“The bare minimum.”

“Perhaps a doctor would be in order nevertheless?”

“That’s the funny thing, Not sure I want patching up.  Never been happier.”

“My word.”

“Taken a weight off the old shoulders.”

“Excellent, excellent.”

“Yes. More whisky, old chap?”

“Wouldn’t say no. Much obliged.”

Pick Up by Michael Webb

July 23, 2010 1 comment

It was funny, I thought. I could actually go for a long time-15 minutes, maybe-and completely forget about it. It wasn’t until I had to reach in a certain way, or stretch backwards, or until my stomach growled, maybe, that I realized again who I was, and what I was, and what was happening to me. Those moments, those sudden spasms of forgetting where none of it had happened-were blissful, but brief.

I was driving to pick up my sister after soccer practice. I had the radio on, tuned to the hits station she liked. I really didn’t like it, but leaving it on that station was easier than fighting about it once she climbed in. I just let it play-the insipid tunes, the mindless chatter from the DJ-giving me background music for the movie of my life. Ever since my life blew up, raining down burning pieces of existence like the climax of a buddy cop film, simpler has been the goal for me.

It was a simple, stupid mistake. Not made out of sloppiness, really, or total self centeredness, just sort of a mixture of both-a mutual loss of control. I could blame him, rant and rave and curse my lot, but I was there, too. I could have insisted. And I didn’t. Blaming is pointless at this juncture, anyway. Someone on the radio was singing about how they think they are in love. Good for you, I think, turning the wheel to make a hard right turn, feeling the seat belt press against me. There’s my reminder, right on time-a routine, instinctive motion, that is suddenly less comfortable. .

Not that my mother fails to remind me of my status. I love my mother-who doesn’t love their mother, right?-but I really don’t need to be reminded. I know it was dumb, poorly timed, a burden on everyone-I understand it. Besides the routine tensions of living in a house with two other women-a notion that gets harder as my sister gets older-there is the insistence, by both of them, that I be constantly reminded that I messed up. I appreciate all that my mother does-really, I do, but still-it was an error, I get it. I felt a twinge-not a pain, just a lurch, sort of-to emphasize the point-somewhere in there.

I eased our van into line with other parents’ vehicles, waiting my turn to pick up my charge. I saw Angie at a distance, recognizing her easily among the ponytailed horde. Being an older sister, I have been picking her out of crowds for a long time. She was standing with two other girls, a taller one I knew and a shorter one I didn’t recognize. I wondered if they were talking about me, then discarded the thought almost as quickly. They have their own little trials to worry about-rumors and fears and scandals and the thousand little slings and arrows of girl life.

I felt a wave of sadness-I knew what troubles she had coming, generally speaking-not the exact source of drama, but the type would be the same-betrayals, breakups, boys-passions without reason causing heartache that feels eternal. I still wanted to protect her, as annoying as she often was, from this sort of hurt-from any sort of hurt. I knew it wasn’t possible.

She had guitar tomorrow, so I was going to see him. He wasn’t like anyone else I knew-he looked, but didn’t stare, he listened, without judging, he heard without my having to repeat. In a different world, with a different me-sure, I could see it happening. He wasn’t devastating, but he was nice enough looking, I supposed, and he was sweet and had really good taste in music. And despite what they thought, and despite what had happened, I was still a girl, and–

Just stop it, I ordered myself. Don’t even go down that road. You know you can’t. So stop. Don’t. You’re not doing that, period. You have too much on your plate. I pulled up to the curb, and, after a pause, Angela broke off from her friends and brought a pair of bags to the car door. I hit the button to unlock it, and she climbed in, shutting it behind her. I could smell the air change-mown grass and exhaust fumes and sweat.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” I answered.

“What’s for dinner,” she asked. It was a lot of work to prepare dinner and clean up, but someone had to do it-she was too young and Mom was too tired. I sighed quietly.

“Chicken, I think.” There was some chicken thawing, and I had about 11 minutes to come up with something to do with it. My feet ached with the thought of 60, or more, minutes standing in the kitchen.

“I’m sick of chicken.” She sounded pouty-tired and hormonal. I hated the sound, but I sympathized too.

“I am too,” I said quietly and pulled away from the school.

Love Reign O’Er Me by Michael Webb

July 21, 2010 2 comments
I looked out the window at the rain. I liked rain, actually-it is a silent signal from the universe-you may have planned to play ball, or drive to Denver, or walk the dog-but I’m going to do this to you. Deal with it. It makes people adjust. It feels like all I do is adjust to other people, so when I watch other people have to change, it makes me smile a little bit. Petty of me, I know.
The laptop was on my mattress, my paper pulled up and waiting for my attention. It needed rearranging, cross referencing, and hours of rewriting-but when I heard the rain start to murmur against my wall, I immediately opened the window to stare at it for a while. The room started to get cold, and I was tired. Tired of working for other people, scheduling for other people, putting my needs aside so that they can have their way. Again.
The radio was on the classic rock station, and I heard the tinkling piano and faint sound of dripping rainwater at the very beginning of “Love, Reign O’Er Me”. I always wondered whether this song would have been programmed to play since this morning, or if some clever DJ snuck it on there when he heard the rain pelting his own window. I knew which one it probably was, and which one I wanted it to be.
I had to admit, as stuck as I was, watching the rain and not doing my work, I was thinking of her, too. She was being rained on, too, at work, maybe, or at home, feuding with her sister, perhaps. She insisted I couldn’t love her, and all sorts of reasons laid out why it was impossible. If she had one of those big pads of cream colored paper, she would probably lay them out for me, in Sharpie, made into an outline. I knew what they were-we had been over them, together and separately.
It was romantic, dashing even, to declare that I didn’t care about them, that I wanted her beside me on this tiny mattress, complaining about being cold from the wind and needling me about getting back to my work. She’d tell me that someone needed to be the responsible one and get their degree. And she’d be right.
But I had to wait her out, sit here and stare at the rain and wait for her to understand that I wasn’t going to run away or give up or bail out or skip out on her, that I was going to stick and keep sticking. That even though my writing was going nowhere, teaching guitar earned a pittance, and my degree seemed to recede away from me at light speed, I couldn’t breathe well when she wasn’t in the room. I couldn’t force her, or trick her, or make her come to the conclusion before she was good and ready. I loved and hated that.
I stared at the rain, and wished for the time to go by faster.

Ciara’s Cloud by Martha Williams

June 27, 2010 10 comments

“If he comes back here, I’ll-”

“We know, you said…”

“He’s a-”

“We know that too. You said.”

Ciara feels the movement grow within her like a balance that she dare not trust… because despite her parents’ fury, Frankie’s flight, and rancid words spewed from tight‑lipped mouths… her baby lives. Today, slumped in apathy, she does nothing more than drown herself in tea and wish for the clock to tick less loudly.

The familiar murmurs drift beneath her.

“If she doesn’t decide soon, it’ll be too late.”

“There’s nothing to decide.”

“There is. She’s our daughter.”

“She’s not my daughter. She did wrong, she has to live with it – but not under my roof.”

“No. No, love, she is our daughter…” The rustle of fabric, the adjustment of breath as fingers wrap around wrists and supplicant palms caress a chest. “We can hide this for her. Get rid of it and forget it. It can’t limit her life now.”

“It’s not her life to take.” There’s a pause, an inhalation. Perhaps he turns his palms up, trying to cup the lost words cascading from his thoughts. He loves her… but he can’t accept… and that’s not the answer…

“It is. Right now, it is.”

“No.”

The slam of angry father, followed by her mother’s music: the clink of crockery chiming an uneven tempo broken by loud clanks that signal a battle’s end but a war only just begun.

Ciara stares at her feet until her eyes cloud and the day’s edges dim. She lets her mind drift as if by sliding into blurred existence, the clamours and needs that dwarf her might distil into something altogether more manageable.

The kitchen song is over and now the sitting room reverberates; the pianissimo hiss of a rug being straightened, the grunt of a sofa disturbed from its seat, the sigh of the duster.

Her mother had always set her sanity by empty filters, clean steps and timed eggs which as each child spewed forth meant escalating failure until thirty years of screaming had carved into her speech crevasses from which molten anger poured.

If you don’t… I don’t want to find… You mark my words, unless…

Unless, unless, unless… what?

Staccato wood under angry feet. The scent of polish, a squeak of a window and tendrils of cold air that reach with icy tongues to lick Ciara’s neck. But as Ciara breathes the breeze that once raged as an ocean gale, it is warmed and soothed and becomes her, soft and supine… bearing on its silent strength sweet dreams of white fleece passing under blue and the sun kissing her face while ivory gulls call, ‘keeeeeeeeeahhhh’ to speckled, flapping young.

And she wonders, even if her rug be crumpled and her steps filthy, beneath the storms of contempt and criticism could her child not float on clouds of calm? Even if chaotic, demanding and ill‑conceived… might her child not still be loved in aimless, rambling and glorious fashion? She thinks, this will be her daughter – then frowns and smiles together as she adjusts her mind: or her son.

Silence flows like summer air as Ciara rises to stand and smile. She will speak later.

For now, it is enough to know.

~ * ~

The Train Dream by Melissa McEwen

June 26, 2010 8 comments

The Train Dream

The train does not stop in Plumfield. It stops in Wyndsor and Heartford, but not in Plumfield. From Heartford it goes right into Wyndsor without stopping in Plumfield and Jonetta doesn’t understand why it just can’t stop in Plumfield.

When she is done with washing the dishes she sits by the window in the kitchen and listens out for the sound of the train as it makes its way into Wyndsor from Heartford. Jonetta often imagines that the train runs right behind her house. She has elaborate dreams at night about the conductor and in the dream she arranges with him to stop his train in the back of her house. She would be on the back porch, luggage and little Sarah at her feet, waiting — waiting to get on that train, after the cooking, cleaning and washing was done. She wouldn’t come back either. Even though she would miss Sofia and Jon and James Jr., and Sylvester; she’d even miss the big old dog Buster that could die any day now.

She used to dream of going on the train alone and leaving little Sarah behind, too, with the rest of them, but she always feels sad on the train, in her dream, without little Sarah. So now little Sarah is part of the dream. Little Sarah — the youngest — would not be able to fend for herself. Sofia is young, but grown, and she knows how to fight. Besides little Sarah is the one she loves the best. Little Sarah looks more like her. The others look like James Sr. — big heads, big mouths, and heavy feet.

Whenever Jonetta is in the kitchen, sitting on the cold radiator and dreaming, and the kids are off playing in the backyard, and it’s a little after five, James Sr. pulls up in the driveway and slams the car door when he gets out. He isn’t angry; that is just his way. The loud bang of the door shakes Jonetta out of her dream and she goes to the oven to fix James Sr.’s plate.

Jonetta eats standing up. The stove is her table. It isn’t because there is no room at the table to sit; it is because she hates watching James Sr. eat. She is glad that he eats with his wide back to her; she doesn’t have to see his face when he chugs down his Coke. She wonders if other men drink like that. She is sure that they don’t. She is certain that other men had more class than James Sr.

She sees men in the grocery store — they look clean and washed and wear fresh clothes. James Sr. wears stretched out tee shirts with holes under the arm. He owns more than ten sea green tee shirts and Jonetta cannot stand it. Why didn’t she get a man that liked to look good and smell good?

James Sr. never appears on the train with her in her dream. He would ruin it with his loud voice and his musty, shapeless green tee shirt, his dusty jeans and his worn-out shoes. He is so sloppy. And Jon, James Jr., Sylvester and Sofia are taking after him.

Every time Jonetta tells them to take a bath, they protest and James Sr. always says, “They are boys; they don’t need to bathe every day.”

And Jonetta complains, “They haven’t bathed in weeks!”

“They’re boys,” James Sr. shouts.

“Not Sofia … she’s no boy, but she might as well be one.”

“They’re kids,” James Sr. says.

And Jonetta would go upstairs to run the water for little Sarah. Little Sarah is too young to protest. She looks washed and shiny like an apple after her bath; Jonetta would hug her and smell her and wouldn’t ever put her down, but there is cooking to be done and cleaning, too.

If Jonetta could walk to Heartford or Wyndsor, she would, but it’s too far. She would drive, but she doesn’t have her license or her own car. She would take the cab, but she never has any money. She would take the bus, but how would she hold the luggage and little Sarah, too?

If only the train stopped in Plumfield— right behind her house.