Monday, August 6, 2018

#272: "I Dreamed of Mark Messier" by Leslie Pietrzyk

***As noted last week, this post will be the final to appear in Redux as I have decided to put aside my editorial duties. Archives will be maintained, and a guide to the more-than-250 authors published here appears below, to your right.

~This story previously appeared in New York Stories (2001)

             This happened several years ago, though I had to look at a calendar before I believed that much time had gone by.  In fact, I think Mark Messier plays for another team now, is retired, has left the country, something, something big, something dramatic.  But what do I know about any of that?

            My boyfriend Andy had been watching Stanley Cup hockey play-offs all weekend, so when I told him Monday morning that I’d had a dream about Mark Messier, he said, “Was he playing for Edmonton or New York?” and I said, “I don’t know,” and he said, “Was he on the Oilers or the Rangers?”, and I said, “I don’t know,” and he got kind of ticked:  “Well, what color was his shirt?”, and I said, “Coral,” and then he got really mad—“No team jerseys are coral, not even expansion teams would pick coral.  What the hell is coral, anyway?”
            Actually, Mark Messier hadn’t been wearing a shirt, because what’s the point of dreaming of a muscley hockey player if he’s got on his shirt the whole time?  But that wasn’t anything you’d say to your boyfriend, not when you were talking around the edges about getting married and no one was getting any younger and there were biological clocks going off all over the place.
            “Well, what else, Lynne?” he asked.
            “It was just a dream,” I said.  “So who cares?”  We were going to be late for work; he was driving, and there was some crash miles ahead of us on the highway.  Whenever he drove there was some crash.  When I drove, we had green lights and clear lanes and no commercials on the radio.  Right now, we were absolutely still.  Every car in every lane was still.  I watched drivers around us whip out their phones to scream at people already at work.
            “I have to know if the Rangers are going to win the Cup,” he said.
            “Not unless their defense steps up,” I said, repeating what I’d heard on the radio in the shower this morning.  I wouldn’t know defense from picket fence.
            “This traffic sucks,” he said.  “The Rangers’ defense sucks.”

Monday, July 30, 2018

And Now We Come to the End (Almost)

I launched Redux in August 2011, with the simple thought that there should be an outlet for excellent stories, poems, and essays that have appeared in literary journals but that never subsequently appeared in a book; work that felt lost in the dusty stacks of a library or, more likely, an archive, whether the journal’s or the writer’s. I know that I’ve published stories along the way that—for whatever reason—I would never choose to include in a collection of stories, if I were to put one together. They don’t fit my current areas of interest, or they read a little too old-fashioned now, or I don’t want so-and-so to read this one. Sometimes, the situation is that I see too many flaws in the writing or in the writer I once was. Yet each publication was deeply important to me, and for sure there are stories that I just simply love—flaws and all—that I want to present once again. There should be a way (I thought back in 2011) to honor these works. In fact, there was a particular story of mine I had in mind: this story, I thought, it makes me sad that this story will never be in a collection or seen again, especially since the journal that published it is now defunct.

Someone should do something, I thought. I should do something, I thought.

I already had a simple blog through Google’s blogging platform, Blogger, so why not add a simple literary journal, where I could publish my beloved story and work by other writers? Ta-da: Redux was born!

It was immediately clear that I couldn’t exactly publish my own beloved story without looking like I was running a vanity project, so I solicited some work and some contributing editors who would also solicit work…and eventually I opened submissions to the world. I loved reading these lost stories and poems and essays, and I also loved reading the stories behind the work: how this might be someone’s first publication, or how someone was experimenting with a technique, or the way this poem always made them remember their grandmother. Redux has published writers I know, writers I’ve heard of, writers I didn’t know, writers I didn’t know but who now are my friends.

Along the way, I’ve had wonderful people helping Redux, either as contributing editors or as assistant editors, helping me evaluate work during the open submission periods. And while I was able to set up a fairly low-stress formula for the myriad of Redux-related tasks: reading the work, posting the work, communicating with writers, etc…even low-stress editing takes up a certain amount of time and energy. Which is why…

…I have made the difficult decision to wind up my participation in Redux. There will be one more post, next week, of the story that started it all, my story that I will never put into a collection, that I still sort of love for a variety of reasons, one being that it’s the story I wrote when I first started loving hockey: “I Dreamed of Mark Messier.”

As for now, I will keep the archives alive as long as it’s inexpensive and easy to do so. But I’m also open to passing along the entire enterprise to another person and/or institution. Might that be you? If so, some quick thoughts/suggestions/cautions:

~A social media presence is helpful to find a wider audience.

~My web skills are waaaaaay outdated, so it seems to me that Redux needs a major web update undertaken by someone with skills waaaaaay better than mine.

~I would expect that whoever might take over Redux would be committed to maintaining the archives.

~Finally, it’s getting a bit harder to find work that has been published in print that isn’t also online already, so the mission of Redux might be tweaked a bit. On the other hand, there’s a world of out-of-print books (if one wants to investigate copyright issues) and there’s also, unfortunately, a world of online publications that are now defunct, leaving behind a sea of sadness and empty links.

In the end, I’m glad I took my thought forward into action, and I’m grateful for everyone who contributed their work, read and shared Redux, and, especially, those who helped produce this journal along the way:
Current assistant editors, Kenneth A. Fleming & Clara Jane Hallar;

Current contributing editor, Stephen A. Ello;

Former contributing editors, Rachel Hall, Deborah Ager, Marlin Barton, Sandra Beasley, Anna Leahy, Joseph M. Schuster, & Susan Tekulve; and

Designer, Bill Skillern.

Email me at lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com if you’d like to learn more about the possibility of taking over Redux. And definitely come back next week to read Redux’s final post!

Monday, July 23, 2018

#271: Two Poems by Mark Liebenow


~This poem previously appeared in The Spoon River Poetry Review (2008).


Anger, No. 15

Jackson Pollock, “Yellow Islands,” 1952, oil on canvas

The tortured pain of Jackson Pollock is not some rehab diatribe
that freed his demons, let him sit with bodhisattva Zen smile.
Strangled at birth by umbilical cord left a web of motor,
learning disabilities that hammered his mind with bristled scorn.
Tangled unbent anger for prestige galleries who couldn’t see
his great talent, the backlash against family, friends, his paint.
The stabs at the hole in his mythical dark soul he starved to fill,
the vapid, cathartic release that never held enough death. 
This painting shrivels grand mysteries into drips of disdain
for academy tastes that cater to the known, the well-dressed,
the pricks, the bores, the intellectual crap, the painted taps,
the crank of the well-heeled that clank on hollowed out pipes.
Turned upside down, I wouldn’t know which way was right,
like tube socks yanked on the wrong foot.

Pollock’s hand is weary of sketching the shuttered interior light,
the slippery decay, the pneumatic musk, the stench below city tenements.
His vision of society’s oblivion twisted into streets he crashed,
the spackle of grackles that jig-sawed beneath his skin,
dumped into urine back alleys like chump, fetid trash scrounged for scraps
of cadmium yellow, white scraped from the fat of electric blue clumps.
He attacks the canvas, people that hang around, fills them with scurry
of rats, the splinter, the shiver, the bones gnawed in the gutter.
The drift of the single-celled anemic, the brown grind of cortex rind
that tears apart, the draft that pulls no where but down.
Depression, alcohol, the failed suicide attempts, the night screams
on a subway lost on its one short stop between genius and pity.
His cords of elemental rage disguised as art, laid out, strangled
on the whorl of passionless sex fermenting in the upper left.


Monday, July 16, 2018

#270: "News of the Loch Ness Monster" by Carla Douglas

~This story previously appeared in The New Quarterly  (2003).
My father has his telephone set to ring twelve times before the answering machine picks up. Tonight he gets it on the eighth—just as I’m deciding whether or not to leave a message.
“Hello,” he says, expectant but not hopeful.
“Hi, Dad, it’s me—”
“Oh, yes.” He fumbles with the phone. “Yes, of course, hello dear.”
“Hi, Dad.”
He always knows my voice, but I tell him who it is anyway. He’s going blind—I have just recently learned this, and I presume he needs help making the visual connection. I realize this is something like shouting at people who don’t speak English.
“You’re home. I didn’t know if you’d be there. I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
“No,” he says, “I’m just resting. I’ve just finished my dinner.”
“Uh huh. What did you have?
“A meal on wheel. A piece of chicken with a vegetable and potato.”
Did the people who invented meals on wheels ever intend for them to be anything but plural? I imagine a chicken drumstick on a unicycle, somehow managing to get up the steps to his apartment door and press the buzzer.
“And was it okay?”
“Yes, it was fine,” he says, “very nourishing.” He says noorish—rhymes with moorish.
I have two pictures of my father. Or rather, I picture him in two ways. In one, he is sitting in a bright, spacious living room. He is nicely dressed in grey flannels—slacks, he calls them, or trousers—and a clean, pressed shirt. He could be expecting a visitor. In this picture he is pleasantly occupied; a fresh breeze blows in through the open window, and there is definitely no gold shag carpeting.
In the other picture, the one I see when I talk to him on the phone, he is hunched over his unwiped kitchen table in the dim light of a single overhead bulb, staring at the blank wall. The sink is stacked with oatmeal-encrusted bowls and glasses rimmed with rinds of old milk. There’s a smell, too—sour food combined with cooking odours from other apartments and the open tube of liniment in the bathroom. I am in this picture because I am the one connected to the other end of the telephone.
And what am I doing? Mostly, I’m trying to keep these images at bay. And on this particular night I’m fumbling with a flashlight and candles, because to the east of Toronto, where I live, a blanket of ice has descended upon us and shut down the power grid. I wonder if he can see me in the dark.
My father lives in Niagara, in a renovated red-brick cannery. This sounds quite grand, and it could be. Everywhere, it seems, old warehouses and factories have been transformed into spectacular living quarters, with cavernous interiors, exposed brick, and walls of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on urban streetscapes full of shops and cafes. On the outside, most of these buildings have retained a period facade, some even sporting signs identifying the original owners and uses—Dempsey’s Candy Factory; Canadian Textiles.
These lofts always seem to be occupied by designers and artists, part of the space being given over to studio, where they work, live, and entertain lavishly. You see them in magazines and on the Home and Garden television channel. Seldom do they have children, but in the rare cases that they do, the family occupies two floors of the building, the parents’ and children’s spaces connected by a system of intercoms, wrought-iron spiral staircases, fire poles, and perhaps even a slide.
My father’s apartment isn’t like this. You would have to be told—and then you still might not believe it—that until the 1950s it was a thriving little cannery, one of a dozen or more in the city that packed soft fruit and shipped it across the country. Peaches, plums, apricots, pears—staple winter fare in most homes before advances in refrigeration and trucking brought oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe, and anything, really, from the south, year-round.
Only traces of its former use remain on the outside of the building. The old, tall windows have been replaced with cheap aluminium sliders, smaller than the originals, and brown siding fills in the gaps at the bottom. But the bricks are pleasingly weathered, and the oversize double doors hint at how the structure could have been transformed, if only the developer had had more imagination.
“… but they always give you too much. I can’t work my way through all that.” He’s still talking about his meal on wheel.
“I didn’t know if you’d be home.”
Usually when I call, he isn’t. Nearly every night he has dinner with his woman friend, a widow he met at his bridge club not long after my mother died. She has become his constant companion. She feeds him, phones him, and fills his head with ideas about how offspring should properly behave. For her fussing attention my father returns a kind of blind party loyalty. She is the final word, the source of all opinion, and he acts as a conduit, reporting all the news to us—mostly about her children’s and grandchildren’s (wholesome, practical and infinitely superior) achievements, but other things, too. She persuaded him to rent this dismal apartment a few blocks from her house. “He’s legally blind, you know,” she told my sister, hurling it like an accusation.
For a time her mere existence provided me with guilty relief, but this soon made way for smug certainty that my mother wouldn’t have liked her either. “She’s not really my type,” my mother would have said, with a sniff. So now I stand on guard with my siblings, ready—eager, even—to preserve our parents’ marital tensions beyond the grave.

Monday, July 9, 2018

#269: "We Take the Bus" by Jacquelyn Bengfort

~This poem was previously published in Gargoyle (2016).

I take her on the city bus
The six blocks to the library
Six blocks too long for toddling legs

I take her on the city bus
So she knows what it costs to spend a dollar eighty
For an hour’s trip across the District

We take the bus.

I take her on the city bus
So she will learn things
Some people never know, see things

See the women bent over their drugstore walkers
See the men with eyes stuck shut, murmuring
See the girls, young, with babies like her

And hear the boys in the back rapping freestyle
She is nearly two and’s seen
More than I at twenty-two:

A gang of masks on Halloween punching out a neighbor,
Panhandlers asking only for a smile
Homeless people passing the peace at church

And all the sirens at night
In place of stars, sirens and
Helicopters, bellies full of hurt children

How young should one begin to know?
Will all this turn her callous
Or cause her pain?

A man on the radio the other day:
“When it comes to our children
Know the space between pain and suffering

“Pain is a teacher. Suffering
Destroys. Just hold your babies
When they are hurting.”

So we take the city bus
With grandmothers and their grocery carts
And men preaching Jehovah’s promise

We take the bus to see the city
At the slowly rolling speed of
Start-and-stop amidst strangers

My daughter and I, she and I,
We take the city bus.


Monday, July 2, 2018

#268: "Between Foreclosures: July 2009" by S.J. Dunning

~This essay previously appeared in Dogwood: A Journal of Prose and Poetry ​(2013).

In the field of foreclosure we measure our days by cities and houses: the condo and the house in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, on Monday, the two-story farmhouse in Washougal, Washington, on Tuesday and Wednesday, “The Shack” in Fairfield, Idaho; from Thursday thru Saturday, a 1600-square-foot million-dollar condo in Big Sky, Montana on Sunday, and there will be many others coming up, each vacant.
My father has said it’s like we’re living the Jonny Cash version of the song “I’ve Been Everywhere,” or I’ve said it’s like we’re living that song on the road, or we’ve both made the comparison. There’s some truth to the analogy—we’re always totin’ packs as the song goes—except our travels are limited to States within the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming. We might as well be driving across the country and back again, however, on account of all miles we tally between these properties.
“We trashout foreclosures,” is the answer I give when people ask what my father and I do on the road, but to “trashout” a house is to remove everything it contains, even the appliances in some cases, and that’s not always why we’re dispatched to a foreclosed property. 
What we actually do at each property depends upon its accompanying work order. In the process we call the “trashout”, we clean the houses, winterize or de-winterize them, change the locks, and do landscaping. Or we might “refresh” a house that’s already been emptied (dust and sweep and make new vacuum tracks) or we might mow a lawn. The yard at the house in Great Falls, Montana, our current destination, is overdue for mowing, so that’s why we’re going there—even though the grass (if there actually is any) is probably dead, even though the mower’s blade will merely spit dust and gravel and litter at me as it spins.

Monday, June 25, 2018

#267: "Another Curio Shop" by Dan Branch

~This poem was previously published in Explorations (1992).
~Selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor for Poetry

Winter die back comes early to this tourist town.

The east coast sleaze boys left after the last tour boat,
taking their cardboard boxes of cheap furs
and the money of visitors who believed that Loring
is an igloo village.

Forty percent off sales and moonlight madness pass like
Chinook winds over the downtown stubble fields.

Curios still need dusting, don’t you know.

Some folks ride out the season south of the Tropic of Cancer.
Five Star and the Potlatch stay open
to give comfort to Thomas Basin.

Our pale teens prefer Mickey D.

June of June’s CafĂ© stays but won’t thaw out any meat.

Last fall they gutted Charlie’s for another curio shop.

Last fall I cared.

I walk on past the Arctic Bar to drink espresso
and watch the sea lions hammer herring near Ryus Float.

Soon the black cod fleet will off load at Silver Lining while
eagles watch perched in the trees along White Cliff Street.

I’ll have a double,
The first Princes boat isn’t due ‘till May.


Monday, June 18, 2018

#266: "The Conveyance of Sound" by Virginia Hartman

            “The doctor will be here in a moment, Mr. Cameron.”  The nurse pulled the door behind her as she left, and I turned toward Tommy, sitting at the end of the examining table, his white-sheathed arms wrapped around himself in an involuntary embrace.
            “What happened?”  I said.  My voice echoed in the bare room. 
            He looked down at his dangling feet, the only limbs still free.  He moved them aimlessly as if he were sitting on a dock, cooling his toes in the water.  He acted like he belonged here, like it wasn’t all a mistake.  But it had to be.
            “Tommy, what happened?”  I repeated, with a bit more force than I’d intended.  He didn’t answer.  That used to be his way of getting at me—acting vacant, giving me a “Duhhh…” when he didn’t feel like answering.  Now, he wasn’t kidding.  He was sitting at the edge of that table like an idiot—so help me, that’s exactly what was going through my mind—my older brother looking like the village idiot.  I took him by the shoulders of that awful jacket and said, “Tommy, tell me what is going on!”  He looked at me—an unfocused, distant stare—and then he looked away.
            I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder, and heard a soft voice say, “Mr. Cameron, why don’t you join me in the next room?”
            It was a thin, severe-looking, middle-aged woman with black hair pulled tightly back in a barrette.  On her coat was embroidered in cursive writing, “Dr. Landis.”  She was the man in the white coat, I thought.  The one who comes to take you away.
            We stood behind a one-way mirror and watched Tommy from the other room.  I couldn’t shake the sensation that all this really wasn’t happening, that sooner or later I’d wake up.  I’d call tom and we’d laugh about this dream.  I touched the glass in front of me.  It was solid.
            Tommy went back to watching his feet.  The doctor must have been standing back here before, observing my brother and me like two bugs in a jar.  She had probably been sizing me up, too, diagnosing me.
            “Could you please take that jacket off him?” I said.
            “Yes, we will,” she said.  Her voice was a low whisper.  “He doesn’t seem to be a danger to himself anymore.”  She stood behind me, the two of us peeping through the glass at Tom.  “I was hoping that you might be able to elicit a reaction,” she said.
            I was going to ask her what happened, but before I could ask, she began to tell me.  Tommy had called the crisis center shouting, she said, shouting that something was about to happen.  When the operator asked what he meant, Tom said something like, “I just need some talk-back!”
            “Talk-back?  What is that?” I said.
            She didn’t know.  She thought I might know.  She waited, then continued.  After he said this, he accused the operator of not wanting to listen to him, and dropped the receiver, leaving it off the hook.  When the paramedics got to his building he was on the roof, sitting out on the edge of a cornice, dangling his feet, just as he sat now on the examining table.  According to the rescue team, when they pulled him back to safety, he flailed and resisted, but he didn’t say a word.
            The doctor stopped talking.  I felt like screaming at Tommy, “Cut it out!” but with that glass between us, my words would have only bounced back to me, unheard.  The doctor, standing at my shoulder, resumed speaking in her low tone, telling me that it might have been an isolated incident, but then what about his unresponsive state?  Had he been acting erratically?  Had he been depressed?  No, no, I said.  I couldn’t think.  The last thing I heard her say was that they’d keep him there for observation, and then I stopped listening.
            Pulling out of the dark parking lot I passed the “St. Mark’s Hospital” sign, and I thought of the directions Annie and I gave people who were driving to our house for the first time.  We used this place as a landmark.  “Turn left at the loony bin,” we always said.  Ha ha.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

#265: Three Poems by Sophie Cabot Black

~This poem was previously published in Bloom (2015).


How tired the day of me realizing
Again not the way wanted, the waste
Of each body by mine and yes

I kept myself capable and yes
When entering a room I was the center
But how unchosen I stood

In a slow undraping to catch
Any task of your broad and apparent
Hands; no longer do I know what to cover,

The cat in the corner overseeing
My fall toward not how I have changed
But finally how I could not bear you.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

#264: "Goosepimples: by Dallas Woodburn

~This story previously appeared in Arroyo Literary Review (2014).

~Selected by Kenneth Fleming, Assistant Editor for Fiction

He isn’t bothering anybody. He’s just sitting in his car in the parking lot by the freshly mown soccer fields, waiting for his daughter to be done with practice. He isn’t looking at anything in particular, just gazing out in the direction of his pony-tailed daughter and her friends, running forward and back across the field, their cheeks flushed and their toothpick legs like pinwheels in their high rainbow socks.
            But he isn’t really watching them, nor is he particularly aware of the pigeons squatting along the telephone wire in the distance, clumped together like old ladies gossiping, nor of the acute blue of the sky behind them, so blue it almost seems artificial. He gazes towards all of these things but he doesn’t really see them, in the way one stares off vacantly into space when deep in thought or daydreaming.
            He isn’t daydreaming or deep in thought, but the opposite. His mind is blank, blissfully blank, like the clear blue bowl of a sky above them, only an occasional cloud-thought skittering past, dissipating before it wakes him from peaceful emptiness.
            It is a shadow that finally rouses him, falling across his face like a summons. He glances up through the dirt-streaked windshield, expecting to see the shiny red face of his daughter, but instead he is met with the round, shapely behind of a young woman. Tight Lycra shorts grip her perfect, tan thighs. He takes in the smooth-shaven backs of her knees, her slender calves tapering down to exquisite ankles, her running shoes edged in pink trim.
            Quickly he looks away, out at the blue sky, the telephone poles, the gray brick restrooms huddled in the midst of green expanse of soccer fields—but immediately his eyes itch to return to her. She is, after all, standing right in front of his car. Her curvaceous lower half directly at his eye level. Where else is he supposed to look?
            He looks.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

#263: Three Poems by Meg Eden

~This poem previously appeared in Kansas City Voices, Salzburg Review (2015).

Civilized People Keep their Silver Polished

My mother polishes her father’s silverware
on the dryer downstairs because
he’s asked her to, and there’s no room
to do it elsewhere. The basement bathroom

hasn’t been clean since my grandmother died.
In the living room, her Greek statues dangle
from bird cages, her piano untuned and unplayed.
In some of the rooms, it still smells like her.

My mother tries to go through each room
with “a woman’s touch”—as if she’s
some spin-off Midas, who can make
the ugly shine—but my granddad

won’t let her throw away anything
that might come in handy one day.
In his workshop, rusting hammers wait
to fix and be fixed.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

#262: "The Jaws of Life" by Todd McKie


~This story previously appeared in Conclave (2012).
~Selected by Kenneth Fleming, Assistant Editor for Fiction


Give us this day our daily bread. And give us, please, the good stuff. Give us something that smells of wheat, not plastic. Give us this day—right now—something good and chewy, baked with care, to sink our teeth into.

          Years ago, newly married and full of youthful enthusiasm, I tried to learn to bake bread. How hard could it be? In our pint-sized kitchen, surrounded by cookbooks, I added water to yeast, salt to flour. I kneaded until my fingers ached. I patted and poked and folded the dough. Eventually I produced six or seven edible loaves, but I also baked some things the dog wouldn’t touch: dense, burnt things more like rustic doorstops than loaves of homemade bread. The successes we ate immediately. Denise oohed and aahed. She made a fuss.
          “Mmm, this is good with butter,” she’d say. Or, “This is so good hot.”
          It was an awful lot of work for something that could be eaten in one sitting, something that only tasted good hot. After a few weeks, I gave up. Ever since, I’ve been glad to pay what’s asked for a good loaf of honest bread.

          Stories should have a bit of historical background mixed into them. That’s what I’m doing when I tell about my early attempts to bake bread and that’s what I’m doing, I suppose, when I tell you that Denise and I are good people. We’ve had, like most married folks, our share of hard times: lost jobs, dreams that disappeared so slowly we didn’t notice them creeping away, a thousand sad things big and small. I don’t recall a time, though, when we were too discouraged, too angry or scared to sit down at the end of the day and eat a meal together. We’re good people who love to eat.
          I  should mention one unhappy fact: Denise and I are fat. We’re not pudgy. We used to be. We used to be ample, heavyset, substantial. Now, God help us, we’re enormous. I guess, relatively speaking, I’m fatter than Denise, but that’s quibbling—we’re both porkers, plain and simple.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

#261: "Sam's Way" by Ruth W. Crocker

~This essay was previously published in The Gettysburg Review (2012).

“We call contrary to nature what happens contrary to custom; nothing is anything but according to nature, whatever it may be.”
Michel de Montaigne Of a Monstrous Child

 “Look at that face! Okay you kids – get close to Sam – give him a tickle – let’s get him to smile – here we go.”
The earliest memory I have of my brother, Sam, is this photograph taken by my father with a Kodak box camera in 1950.  Sam sits scowling in a red Radio Flyer wagon pulled by our older brother, Bobby, over the bumpy flagstone walkway in front of our childhood home behind the nursing home in Old Mystic, Connecticut. I am standing next to the wagon, my blond pig-tails sticking out like a four year old Pippi Longstocking, with a child-sized garden rake in one hand and the other on Sam’s tiny shoulder, steadying him on his perch. This pose with me as the big sister trying to keep a grip on Sam foretold our future. His expression, with his chubby lower lip pulled up to his nose and eyebrows scrunched together under a wide-brimmed girlie sun hat, was also prophetic. There were arrows coming from his eyes towards the camera. He was eight-months old in that snapshot, but I would see that same expression many times over the thirty-nine years of his life. 
 From his earliest days he could aim that scowl at anyone and the word went out: “Sam’s not happy.” He sent mood telegraphs with his facial expressions. As soon as he could stand up on his little mutton chop legs, he further illustrated his discontent by taking off in all directions as fast as those mini gams could carry him. Drooping cloth diapers never slowed him down. Sam could turn ornery at a moment’s notice and demonstrate demon behavior – something that I aspired to as a child but assumed I could never get away with. 
Our parents battled for control over Sam’s moods and meanderings.  Many a family outing ended with my mother’s frantic cry: “Where’s Sam?” and the alarm went up: “Sam’s taken off again!” We would all go to our lookout points. Even at a picnic table in a park in an open clearing with ten pairs of eyes looking left and right, he could vaporize. 
He would never have his picture taken with Santa Claus at the G. Fox & Co. department store, in Hartford, Connecticut, a yearly tradition for the rest of us.  He was already on the lam as soon as we entered the store. Each year, as my older brother and I waited like automatons to sit on Santa’s lap, standing on fake snow in the line of children that snaked through Frosty Village and the elves’ toyshop, Sam had already departed for the luggage department or housewares or men’s clothing with our parents in pursuit, my father panting in his wool suit, overcoat and felt hat, my mother slipping and sliding in her high heels and taffeta dress with her coat over her arm – both wearing a look of alarm. Sam could do that to adults. They never knew what he was going to do even though he seemed to do the same thing, over and over. 
 “What ails that child?” said my grandmother, “he just goes off on a toot whenever he wants. He takes after Grandfather Sam. He couldn’t stay t’ home either. Shouldn’t have named him after him.” 
This knack at physical disappearance raised conversations within the family both about the origins of Sam’s behavior and/or the reinforcement of such propensities. Was it nature or nurture?  “How did he get like this?” they wondered.
My father: “Sam needs a good hiding.”
My grandmother and mother, in unison: “Don’t you dare touch that child.”

Thursday, March 15, 2018

#260: "Ant Farm" by Laura Oliver

 ~Selected by Kenneth Fleming, Assistant Editor for Fiction

--This story was first published in Glimmer Train Stories (1999).

       After Brian moved out I bought our daughter Erica an ant farm. I thought it would distract her. A flat plastic skyline sat on a slice of sand wedged between two clear plastic panes to form an underground window. Toys R Us couldn’t stock live insects however, so after buying the kit, we sent the enclosed coupon to Uncle Willy’s Ants and waited for our tenants to arrive in the mail. We were not to be alarmed if they arrived “sleepy” the literature stated, which meant, barely thawed.
       We set up the display in preparation of their arrival and read the instructions. “ANTS DON’T LIKE LANDSLIDES!” That meant don’t shake the farm. “ANTS DON’T LIKE LEFTOVERS!” A piece of fruit the size of an asterisk can feed a whole colony for a week, we discovered.
        I think of that now as ants scurry in erratic patterns to nowhere across the family room floor--but these are garden-variety ants that have somehow found a way into the house. Uncle Willy’s ants must have been derailed somewhere, because it has been three weeks and they have not arrived.
       “Don’t step on them Mom,” Erica says. “We can put them in the farm.”
       I am not actually stepping on them. I have bought a few ant traps and am encouraging one to venture inside with the toe of my shoe. He veers off again and again. Finally I pick him up and drop him on it. He scrambles away.
       Things have been like this since Brian left. The house painter I hired turned out to be an evangelist. My son Adam, a freshman at St. Luke’s, announced to Sister Francesca that he’s a practicing Hindu, pierced his ear and got a tattoo.
       “At least it’s not a skull and cross bones,” my son points out. “At least it doesn’t spell anything.”
       “It could have said, ‘Mom,’” I say.

Monday, March 5, 2018

#259: "No thanks, I'm just looking" by Welton B. Marsland

~This poem was previously published Cargo (1988).

~Selected by Clara Jane Hallar, assistant editor, poetry

"No thanks, I'm just looking"

I stand and peer in through the window.
I want him.
Everyone else thinks I'm admiring the clothes
  placed so strategically casual in the display
  but it's him that I want wrapped up to take with me.
Every night, on my walk home from work, I stop
  and fuck him through the cold glass.
Does he think I only like the clothes, too, or
  is he aware of me outside his shop,
  the red neon light illuminating the lust in my stare?
I don't think I want to speak to him.
He's simply another item in the shop,
  to be admired, perused, pinched, considered, bought and used.

And so I watch him -
  he woos customers, wrestles coat-hangers,
  stands strangely on one foot 'cos those new shoes are hurting again,
  placates complainers, runs long sensual fingers through jet black hair,
  and looks relieved to see the last of them go at half-five.
He glances at the window and my eyes dart back to the display,
  that cream jumper is cheaper than last week... how interesting...

Then I walk away towards the train station,
  leaving a foggy patch on his window to remind him I was there,
  and I go home empty handed.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

#258: "Remember the Grass" by Tariro Ndoro

~This story first appeared in Thyini  as “Inevitable.” (2015).
~Selected by Kenneth A. Fleming, assistant editor for fiction

You know it is over when your grandmother comes from the general dealer and confronts you about it. You deny it all because perhaps you weren't just ready to deal with it yet. Your grandmother takes you on the next bus to town anyway and just when you've thanked God that the General Hospital is already closed, a young pharmacist tells your grandma that pregnancy tests can now be bought over the counter.
            She buys five to make sure before dragging you to your uncle's house in the township where dust floods the streets and kids ran around with snot on their faces and no trousers on. Unconcerned men laze around on rundown cars with their shirts off because it is summer, just like Mutare, just like the neighborhood you were uprooted from, while guavas fell from the trees and Rutendo played marakaraka with you until sundown.

Your uncle’s wife is surprised to see you, but when she sees the look on your grandmother’s face she acts like a good daughter in law and silently makes tea. Your grandmother refuses to drink it. Sweat beads down her temples, running from somewhere beneath her doek to the bottom of her neck and there is an eerie silence, like the time you snuck out at night to go dancing and locked your her in the house.
Taking the tests is hard enough with your grandmother and your aunt watching as you intently pee into the cup. Like the old ladies they are, there is a great fuss about following all the instructions to a T. The results don't surprise you – you’ve skipped two periods already. You have to wait for your uncle anyway, so your aunt makes another pot of tea – hot water in a yellow metal kettle with the milk and sugar thrown in it already and chunks of bread with only one slice margerined, just the way you've had it every day for the past two years since coming to live with your grandmother.
When your uncle arrives, the tribunal has to be held via loudspeaker on your grandmother’s solar phone, although not everyone’s opinion is heard because they are all headstrong and all loud and all right. Your grandmother is broken, she looks angry but she's crying. You've never seen her tears.
Every family member has something to say about it all but as always your own mother is silent. Your mother was silent too when you'd been caught talking to your Math teacher after twilight, and when you had failed all your subjects that school year and when you were caught changing the marks on her report card. They decide that your uncle and aunt should escort you to your new home.

The journey back to your grandmother’s is tense. From Rusape town all the way to Gunda turn-off no one speaks to anyone else, all you can do is listen to the vague radio somewhere behind the gossiping mothers and watch as the brown grass flies past you, just like the journey from Mutare, the one you thought had a return date on it but didn’t.
       When you arrive they pack everything you had with you when you came – it all fits into one satchel, and even the satchel was a donation but this isn't the time for details. That is why you went to the grass in the first place; it helped you forget about the rural school you now had to attend. It was light years away from feeding the chickens with their pecking, and the pigs with all their hovelly sounds...

Most of all it helped you to forget gratitude. They always forced you to remember that when you arrived you had nothing but the clothes you wore, that your Aunt Rumbidzai had paid your school fees and that it was Aunt Namato who brought you food every month. You were tired of justifying your existence. You hadn’t planned to stay that long with you grandmother. No one had planned it – except your mother.
       And so it is with your uncle and aunt that you walk the 2 km journey from your grandmother’s home to your new husband’s home. You will go without a price because you sold yourself cheap. You walk past fields that smell of fresh long grass and cow dung, fields in which you had lain as he had loved you. It was in these fields and fields further on that you had sat with him and learnt to forget, the world stopped still when you were here, but now it's catching up with you.
As you hear the njiva sing above you, you think of all the days you had played truant with him – he had quit school long ago so his presence came with intoxicating freedom. Out of the trees hanging low, he would pick hute for you as you sat there in the grass, hiding from busybodies.
The welcoming party is meager, one skinny sister in law suckling her baby, and your lover. Their homestead is peculiar in its lack of livestock. Your uncle and aunt leave after saying the necessary and for the first night you will be joining in his hunger, the hunger that that drove you to steal from your grandmother to feed him, isn’t that what love does? That is why Grandmother had insisted you leave with nothing, so you can see for yourself that he doesn't really love you.
But he does love you. Of course he has not been you first lover; your first lover had been the neighbour. But that was before he wanted to play the game with your baby sister too and that got you into trouble. Love stops where marriage begins. That's what they say. It is that way when finally you live with your man. You struggle for money and give birth to your first child on the side of the road and he dies before you get to hospital. You get pregnant again. You fight over something as crazy as five dollars and you make up, but not before he kicks you in the stomach and you lose that baby. Six months later you're pregnant again.

“Remember the Grass” was inspired by a course in synchronous narrative. One of the readings for the class was “Rooster Pollard Cricket Goose” by Noy Holland which reminded me of rural Zimbabwe and also made me think about narrating a story from the perspective of a character who has been robbed of agency.

Tariro Ndoro is a Zimbabwean writer and an alumnus of the Rhodes University Master of Arts in Creative Writing progamme. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Contrast, Oxford Poetry, AFREADA and Fireside Fiction.