By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Note: To those who’ve succumbed to the propagandized image of the “Arab” terrorist, please consider the terrorists who perpetrated the 1995 attack in Oklahoma City.
An annual remembrance of the 19 April 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Building
Ladies and gentlemen and children: See before you the crumbled concrete and teddy bears, the wreaths and forlorn love notes, the postcards and classroom projects, the flags and bobbing balloons, the flowers and final farewells to one hundred, sixty-eight souls.
Ladies and gentlemen and children: Blown from the earth with a single obscene gesture, they were three months, they were seventy-two years, they were one and twenty-three and thirty-six and forty-two and fifty-five and sixty-seven; good ages all, now etched static on stones in perpetuity.
Ladies and gentlemen and children: Look at their faces, unprepared to be memorialized, giggling from family photos; posing for graduation pictures; caught unaware in backyard barbecue snapshots; accepting awards for deeds well done; squinting through sunglasses and wind-whipped hair; smiling from beneath coquette eyelids; flirting with a future that remains unlived.
Ladies and gentlemen and children: Do they now soar on the wings of eagles? Do they join celestial choirs, belting out the blues for those left behind? Do they rest safely where a god is nigh? Do they fly wrapped in angels’ wings and draped in patriotic colors? Do they heed the solemn psalms we offer up, the precious quilts we stitch with tears, the “Taps” we sound in stolid sorrow?
Ladies and gentlemen and children: Do you know? Their memories will never leave us — children’s cries that faded before they could be found; a boot, impotent with only its warrior’s leg; the futile reach of a toddler’s severed hand; the sacrifice of a limb for life; the heart of one who would serve and protect gone limp as the baby’s body he cradled.
Ladies and gentlemen and children: Can you see? In the victims’ absence, a flag caresses a face, memorializing last kisses never placed on loved ones’ lips. Children’s words, pure and simple, are searched for some serenity. Voices are joined to find a remnant of harmony in harrowed hearts. Hands are clasped, ribbons are donned and candles lighted to lead wounded survivors to comfort.
Ladies and gentlemen and children: Can we help but wonder just how great is the resilience of this human spirit? Can we help but question that a god would make such a day as April 19, 1995? And when the doubts are done, when grass grows where battlements once stood, can we find inspiration in the agony? Can we embrace the anguish of it all and fill the void with the wonder of hope and peace?
Ladies and gentlemen and children: Speak tenderly to the city and love each other well that darkness may not have its way.
Visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.
Photo credits: Terrorist images from biography.com, OKC National Memorial image by K-B Gressitt
A Short Story by
Ruth was growling through another diet, trying to take ten pounds off her butt, but Ellis (basing his comment on years of observation of his wife’s unnecessary battle against her curvy build) said, “Those first ten pounds are probably gonna come off your boobs, Babe, and I’m pretty sure the whole starvation thing isn’t worth it.”
For this he earned a banishment to the garage, where he used his cell phone to make a call out, and he now sat there in his lawn chair, a cold beer in the chair arm’s cup holder, awaiting the delivery of his large pizza from Tony Pepperoni’s. But before it arrived, Ruth glowered out with an armload of laundry, a dark cloud of relentless hunger hovering over her head.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Ellis said, jumping up. “Let me get that for you, Ruthie girl.” He took the jumble of colors from his wife’s arms and stuffed it into the washing machine.
Ruth, ever the cynic, said, “What are you up to?” gazing around the garage.
“Nothing, nothing,” Ellis replied, measuring some soap. “You go inside and get yourself a stalk of celery and kick your feet up and relax.”
“You’ve got food hidden out here, don’t you?”
Ellis denied the allegation, as an ancient Honda Civic with the plastic Tony Pepperoni sign affixed to its roof pulled up at the curb. He caught Ruth’s gaze laser-beaming out the open door, and he turned and said, “Oh shit,” as the guy with the fragrant box walked up the driveway. Ellis met him halfway, paid him, took the pizza, and as he turned around, there was Ruth. “Gimme that,” she said.
“But your diet,” Ellis protested.
She grabbed the box, Ellis refused to let it go, so the couple shuffled into a push and pull cha-cha that took them out onto the front lawn, each of them displaying a muscular determination to gain possession combined with a finessed restraint aimed at maintaining the structural integrity of the box and pizza. Stray neighborhood dogs wandered in and hung like hyenas on the outskirts of the struggle. Clete and Juanita rolled by and pulled in their driveway next door.
“What the hell are they doing? Clete asked.
“Looks like some kind of tango,” said Juanita, as Ruth gave a tug and Ellis countered the move, planting his foot, swinging in and digging an elbow into his wife’s ribs, making Ruth grunt and step on his foot and move her weight forward, causing Ellis to fall on his ass, without letting go, drawing Ruth down to her knees, her arms extended in order to maintain the horizontal alignment of the box that held the pizza that she was determined to have, those ten extra pounds on her butt be damned.
About Dan McClenaghan
I write stuff.
I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.
I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.
Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and four (soon to be five) beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!
Photo credit: Marc Wathieu via a Creative Commons license.
By Natalie Hirt
I asked Grandma again, “What’s your favorite color?” thinking that if I asked her enough she’d change her mind.
“What? Blue?” I was always disappointed by her answer. “Why not yellow?” Everyone should know that yellow was the best color of all. Yellow was the color of sunshine, the brightest color in my crayon box. Yellow made me happy.
My bedroom was mostly brown with two walls in brown and white paneling, speckled brown flooring, and a mishmash of furniture. Nothing matched. In my best dreams, I had a yellow room, bright and pastel with white furniture like in the Levitz furniture store. My bedspread would be yellow and white checked with white eyelet trim. And the best part would be the canopy, something to look up at, hopeful. Bright yellow and happy.
I never forgot my dream even when Mother put a pink patterned wallpaper right over the paneling on one wall in my bedroom. I told her I liked it, and I wanted to. But it wasn’t yellow. I tried to see the good in it even though the room was still mostly brown with brown and white paneling, a speckled brown floor and now, one pink wall. I decided to like it.
But yellow continued to be me. Clean like citrus and sparkly on the tongue, I loved yellow. Yellow was summertime barefoot, walking back from Nick’s Corner Mart, my mouth full of Lemonheads.
Yellow was Atlantic Avenue and Marvin Gardens, a good place to live. Daddy kept his money all in a pile hunting for this ten or that five to pay the rent. Carefree yellow. I kept mine in neat little rows with exactly the same amount sticking out from the game board, orderly yellow. Yellow laughter and all that’s happy because I won.
One night it changed.
My brothers were in their yellow footie jammies, smelling baby-powder sweet after their bath. I didn’t know I had only a little while left in my yellow world. I didn’t know that in just a little while, a man in a black ski mask would change it all. In that moment, I didn’t know it.
I didn’t know it when he held onto my wrists, twisting them as he pulled me through the dark yellow kitchen, tripping on high chairs. I didn’t know the colors would change as I leaned against the yellow-beige wall of the hospital. “Can I go to the bathroom?” I asked. No one knew if I could. I had to wait. But I decided to go anyway, and while I was in the gold-yellow stall of the restroom, I cried. And I cried again when I was told that I should not have gone yet. I was in trouble, with whom I didn’t know. I had done something bad. During the exam, I glanced up at the yellow-beige ceiling just before I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it was okay, there was a room full of people telling me everything was all right, we’re almost done.
I came home and for the first time noticed how truly ugly the house was standing there unaffected, unsafe, hideous in mustard yellow with gold trim. The yellow in the kitchen glared at me in the morning light and became intolerable.
Then the day came I had to go back to school. The kids walked up. “Is it true? Were you raped?” That day, I came home and threw up yellow.
I became red. I didn’t make a conscious choice. It was something I noticed later, like so many other things that had changed in me. Red is bold and powerful. It’s sunspots, flaring and spitting. Red doesn’t mess around. Red is fun, an ever-ready smile and nothing to worry about. Red will do a double dare just because. I never looked back on yellow, that sissy color, an ugly freak show.
As I got older, I tried on different colors. I thought maybe I was like my Grandma, and blue would be my favorite, but it didn’t fit me right. I tried the oranges and browns like my mother, but that wasn’t right either. I decided I had no preference and that favorite colors were silly. But the children in my life wouldn’t let me be.
“What’s your favorite color?” They asked over and over.
“I don’t have one,” I said.
“You have to have one,” they insisted. “Is it blue?”
“Mine is green.”
“I like purple.”
They drove me to distraction, and because they had such a worried look, because they truly cared, I realized I had to choose a favorite color. For them.
I said, “Red. Red is my favorite.” I was relieved they appeared satisfied with the answer.
After a while came a time when I could reflect on whether I was being honest. I wondered if it mattered. I took a peek deep inside myself to see. It really bothered me I didn’t seem to know much about myself, down to what color I liked best. Was I ready? Would I be able to face yellow.
I could only look at small pieces. Each time I revisited yellow, I was able to look at it longer, with less pain. It was difficult to see it fully, right in the face, the way a strong red should do it.
And I didn’t realize it, but yellow had never left me. It was simply hidden in a faraway place. I didn’t know that taking those small glimpses at it would get easier causing it to grow, until it burst forth shining, clear and bright. I’m glad I found yellow again. It’s okay with me to be yellow, and when I see yellow, I’m happy.
It’s a little different for me now. Yellow is more sensitive and introspective. Yellow is a little unsure of the world and holds back a bit. But, it’s also wild sunflowers on the side of the road. It’s the smell of the day’s first light.
About Natalie Hirt
Natalie Hirt received an MFA in fiction from UC Riverside. “Colors” is an excerpt from her novel in progress, Goodbye Kansas. She was a best short story prize-winner in the now defunct, Kalliope Literary Magazine for another excerpt from the novel. She lives in Laguna Niguel, with her husband, three children, and her dog, Rex. Her family hopes her book is published soon so that they can reclaim the dining room table from its many stacks of edits and revisions.
Photo credit: Candie N via a Creative Commons License
A Comfortable Dysfunction
By Nicole Gibbs
He wasn’t abusive. Not in the way I expected “abusive.” He didn’t hit me is what I mean. Actually, after the first couple years we didn’t even really argue. Maybe it was all the pot we smoked, maybe it was a manipulative trick I taught him, to sit and talk to each other and listen to each other and have discussions that lasted through a whole pack of cigarettes. Maybe this was his way of keeping me thinking we had something special, that he really cared. Maybe it was his way of making sure I needed him.
He had some weird views is what I told myself. I loved him, so I could tolerate his loose interpretations of marriage, of commitment, his ego that filled the room and threatened to smother us both. We were young, and his mom was a mess. One day he would come out of it.
We were young, 19 and 20 when we met in a college drama class. And we were some sort of new age hippies. Only we weren’t that great at it. We were friends. At least that’s what I thought.
When I was married, it was for good. Whatever happened, we would get through it together. When he told me that God was telling him to move to Washington to start a record label and make music, well, how could I let something so important to him come between us? How could I deny him his dream?
Of course it was a disaster.
It was my fault. I didn’t have enough faith. I wasn’t manifesting the right things for us. I was too full of doubt, full of fear. I was too sad, too confused. Too unstable.
He lost all of our money in the stock market. It was my fault. I didn’t believe right. I was so full of fear, I infected him with it. He didn’t want me to feel bad about it. It was just money, there would be more.
I was five months pregnant. I wanted to go home. We moved to a hippie commune in Oregon instead. One hundred acres of nature.
They had plans.
They gave us a trailer with no running water or electricity, a propane heater that ticked like a bomb. It was January and there was two feet of snow on the ground. I wanted my mom.
When the dog jumped in the frozen lake and we had to jump in after him to get him out when the old man who owned the property told me about their arrangements, how they share everything, when we sat at the kitchen table with the four other people living there, setting up for breakfast, and one of the three middle-aged women took her top off and let her huge breasts flop around, drenched in sweat, and told us “I get so hot while I cook, I prefer to do it topless” when they told us “no smoking pot,” I knew it wasn’t going to work.
This time it was me. I was the one leaving. We asked his mom to help us out with money to get home, she said no. We had to stick with our decision. I pawned my laptop and my camera, the only things I had that were worth money. We slept in the car on the trip back and panhandled on corners for money for food. I didn’t talk to him. I knew it was my fault we had failed. I knew that I was the one holding us back with my fears and my doubt. If I just believed in him enough.
Bella lived in a little trailer with her grandma and her uncle when I met her. Her mom was in Washington, in rehab. Her dad had been killed four years before, in a gang shooting. I met Bella on my first day at my new job. It was overcast and the tired classrooms were almost depressing. Bella was loud and obnoxious. She sat in her math class and spun around and around in a computer chair, singing. For the entire period. I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be doing with her. They had pretty much pointed out classrooms and given me a list of names. No training. Social, Emotional, Academic Mentoring. This was the job I had applied for, the job I wanted so desperately. Working with teens who were “emotionally disturbed” or suffered from mental illness (depression, anxiety, schizophrenia).
I knew it was going to be challenging, but I didn’t realize exactly what that would mean. I expected it to be emotionally difficult. Not in the way it really is though. I’ve spent the last six months building up relationships with these kids and they are only beginning to trust me. I started to look for another job recently, something that paid more, maybe some benefits, you know. I was looking through these ads, and I realized that it’s taken me this long to achieve the little bit of progress I’ve made. They depend on me. They count on me to be there for them. I can’t leave now.
“I think I might be a messiah,” he told me one night. We were stoned and I laughed.
“No … really. God talks to me sometimes.” His red hair glowed in the night like flames, his long, lanky body hunched over his cigarette.
“Yeah. God talks to all of us. Just some of us don’t listen. I read that book too.” I dismissed his rambling stoner talk.
“You don’t understand!” He jumped up and glared at me. “We need a revolution! Things need to change! This society is so fucked up, and I think it might be my purpose in life to be the leader of a revolt. An uprising. If you don’t believe me you should just leave.” The tip of his cigarette punctuated his words.
I wondered if he was maybe the crazy one. I couldn’t say that though, I knew better. I was the crazy one. I was the one who was too emotionally weak, to mentally fragile to handle the world. That was why we had to keep to ourselves. That was why we had to move all over the country. We were meant to be together and he was going to take care of me and he was going to be great. A rock star, a revolutionary leader. We were going to start our own country, right here. We were going to start our own village and it was going to grow to be so big and strong that we would take over the government.
Of course I didn’t believe this shit. I knew we were just a couple of kids who weren’t all that special. I tried to let go of that “limiting belief,” I tried to trust him and believe in him and his cause. I even had an idea that I might not be the mentally unstable one in the relationship. I mean, yeah, I was depressed a lot. I had three babies in four years. We had no real income, my family and friends were thousands of miles away and his parents criticized me nonstop and blamed me for everything that went wrong.
“Why is she so sad?” my coworker asked me the other day, referring to Bella.
“Yeah, but I mean, why? She was fine this morning.”
“That’s how depression works. You get sad. There’s no reason. And it’s not always consistent, sometimes you aren’t as sad, sometimes you can smile and laugh and play it off like things are wonderful.”
“I think she just wants attention,” she frowned.
“Yeah … that could be it too.”
How do you explain it to someone who’s never experienced it? It’s like you’re moving through reality at a slower pace than the rest of the world. Like you’re on slow motion and everyone else is on normal. Like you’re finding your way through a thick, dark, sticky fog that clings to you and weighs you down. Like the rest of the world doesn’t really exist. It’s a deep, dark sinking feeling that never goes away. It is sadness with no cause, anger with no spark. It’s like life has no luster, no gleam. Everything is dull and flat. Just getting out of bed is hard. We’ve all seen the commercials.
But it is more than that, too.
It is comfortable. It’s safe, depression. If I’m already sad, well, you can’t hurt me quite so much. Not like if I were happy and you hurt me, you know? If life already sucks and I would rather die than anything else … well, then it’s not so disappointing when my husband tries to hook up with all of my friends. It doesn’t hurt quite so much when he says things like “sex has nothing to do with love,” and “sometimes I just want to be with someone who isn’t so emotionally draining.” It doesn’t affect me so much when his parents criticize and judge me instead of offering to do the dishes when they come for dinner uninvited and I am trying to get four or six kids fed and bathed and ready for bed and my blood is boiling, pouring through my veins at a thousand miles an hour with the tension and the frustration and it’s all I can do to not snap. The depression numbs that, flattens it, takes the emotion out of it.
Depression was my coping mechanism. It was easier than admitting I’d failed. It was easier than giving up, much easier than actually making changes. Not that I didn’t try. I did. Especially at first. In fact it wasn’t until the very end that I gave up. But the depression made it easier to fail. Things didn’t matter quite so much.
It wasn’t that I chose to be depressed instead of actually caring. I didn’t have that sort of control over it. It came and went in a tide that was unpredictable and scary. Sometimes it was soft and easy, carrying me along gently and washing me back onto the shore with ease. Other times it was like a riptide, dragging me out against my will, trying to drown me.
But I chose to accept it, I chose to self-medicate instead of seeking the help that I knew was out there. I chose to smoke pot and drink. I chose to stay in a relationship that was failing, a relationship that had me thinking I was crazy. I chose to stay with a man who I knew, deep down, didn’t love me the way I should be loved. It was easier to stay stuck than to face the pain of changing.
When I left J, finally, I went home to my mom. I brought hardly any remnants of the life I was leaving. I filled the falling-apart van with clothes and blankets and toys. I brought a box of artwork that the kids from the daycare I ran had made for me. Pictures they had painted at home and brought to me, arts and crafts they had done with me that they wanted me to keep. My mom’s apartment didn’t have much room to begin with, and when we added me and four kids it was just about overflowing. I put the box of artwork out on the patio with some other things that weren’t absolutely necessary.
I think I had been home a month or so when it rained. I was drunk and thought it was a great treat to go dance in the downpour of icy needles. Water cleanses, you know. I was having a meltdown, and the rain washed away the pain of life, it reminded me that I was alive and that in itself was a beautiful thing. I danced in the rain in the parking lot in front of our apartment, tears mingling with the drops, unaware of any other living being. I didn’t care who saw me, what anyone might think.
When I climbed back up to the apartment, I realized my things on the patio were in the rain. The box of artwork was drenched. I pulled out picture after picture of colors bleeding. When I tried to lift them, the papers tore.
About Nicole Gibbs
Nicole Gibbs is an MFA candidate at UC Riverside Palm Desert. A Comfortable Dysfunction is an excerpt from a longer work.
Photo credit: Maki Matsuoka via a Creative Commons license.
The Woman with the Perfect Body
By Karla Cordero
The Woman with the perfect body
one day peels the skin off her body.
Her plump breasts fall to the ground,
evaporate into the sun’s hungry body.
She throws her hair, staples each eye lash
to the wall, feels the woman-pieces left on her body.
Now a monument of bones braided
in vein ribbons and pink muscle expose her body.
The Woman pulls out her nicely kept teeth,
pickles them in lavender oil for her daughter’s body.
In the city, businessmen stare, wives vomit
caviar lunches at the sight of an unfamiliar body.
The Woman declares, Whoever chooses to love
me, chooses to love a woman’s broken body.
A florist from the crowd takes her hand
drapes marigolds around her body.
We dance to pollen and rude faces. Maria smiles
counting the bees that visit her body.
About Karla Cordero
Born in the hot little border town of Calexico, California, I started my new life in San Diego where the weather spoils the living. I’m currently an MFA candidate at San Diego State University, studying creative writing under Sandra Alcosser and Illya Kaminsky. Aside from the graduate life, I’m an associate editor for Poetry International and my work has appeared in the California Journal of Women Writers.
In 2013, I helped the San Diego poetry slam team place fourth in the country at the National Poetry Slam in Boston. I believe that activism exists in the ability to pick up a pen and paper, transforming one’s thoughts into a tangible action for change.
Photo Credit: Clyde Robinson via a Creative Commons license.
The First Woman to Carry Mail
By Patty Campbell
Anaconda, Montana, 1916
My mother, Frances Griffith Cowan, was the first woman in the United States to carry mail. Years later, when the National Organization for Women gave her a plaque for being a feminist pioneer, she shrugged and told them “I just needed a job.”
Tears dropped on the half-finished lace doily in Fanny’s hands. “I hate tatting,” she fumed to herself. She squirmed restlessly on the hard sofa. “As long as I have to be parked here on the couch all day, I could be reading.” She sighed. But then she remembered that when she had tried tatting and reading The Little Colonel at the same time last week it had made her drop stitches and lose her place in the pattern. She wrapped the thread around her left hand, picked up the shuttle with her right, and began to stitch again.
“Fanny!” her mother called, coming in from the kitchen with a letter in her hand. “I need you to go on an errand for me.” Fanny ducked her head and quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Her mother looked at her for a moment and then sat down beside her on the slippery sofa. She lifted the damp doily. “Oh look, you’re getting this all wet.” She put her arm around Fanny’s shoulders. “You’ve been crying again. I know it’s hard, staying home when you wanted so much to go on to high school.”
“Yes, and why does Orick get to go?” she burst out. “He only got through eighth grade because I helped him, and he doesn’t even want to go to school any more. And Laura told me she only decided to go to normal school to meet a husband. It’s not fair.”
“But you know things have been hard ever since we had to leave the farm and move to town. Your father’s carpentry shop isn’t doing so good, and I need you to help with your little sisters. We can use every penny you make from selling doilies and antimacassars to the church ladies. Besides, Orick’s a boy. He needs the schooling more than you do.”
Fanny had heard that explanation before from her father, and it always made her mad. She could hear him in her mind: “Girls just get married, so it doesn’t matter if they’re educated. Their husbands will support them. You stay as pretty as you are, sweetheart, and you’ll find a good man to take care of you.”
She knew she couldn’t win that argument, so she clenched her teeth and said nothing.
“All right. That’s my girl,” said her mother. “Now wash your face and take this letter to the post office. It will do you good to get out into the fresh air.” She smoothed Fanny’s hair.
Being outdoors did help her feel better. Red and yellow leaves scattered from the trees along the sidewalk in a crisp breeze that promised snow soon. She reminded herself that when the pond in the center of town froze, there would be ice skating parties, with hot chocolate afterwards. She felt almost cheerful, until she came to the chain link fence around the yard of the square red brick high school, where some girls in stylish gym suits were playing basketball. In their knee-length bloomers and middy blouses they looked athletic and confident. She stopped to watch the game, wishing she knew how to play. The bell rang, and the girls swarmed through the school doors to their classes, leaving Fanny alone on the sidewalk. She leaned her head against the fence. “Basketball’s not the only thing I’m never going to learn about.”
But her good spirits returned when she came to the Anaconda Bon Ton on Main Street. The beautiful red dress was still in the window. Fanny stopped to admire its lacy collar, filmy sleeves, and daringly short skirt. It would just come to the tops of her boots, and she could almost feel the brilliant fabric swirling around her legs at the Grange Hall dances. She peered at the price tag, and knew it was an impossible dream. “If only I had a job.” She imagined the dignity of bringing home a paycheck, the independence of it. “I could buy things sometimes. … I could bob my hair. Maybe I could even leave this poky little town and go to California to live with Aunt Patty. I could call myself Frances, and stop being Fanny”—the hated nickname that had earned her the jokes of all the boys in school.
“Fanny, hello there.”
“Anna! How are you? I haven’t seen you much since you got a job at the post office.”
Anna MacDonald’s plump face beamed with friendship. “I’m heading there now, and I have to hurry. But walk along with me.”
“I wish I could get a job,” Fanny confided. “There’s plenty of ‘Help Wanted’ signs in town since so many of the men are away at the war, but my mother says most of those jobs are ‘not suitable for a young lady.’”
“Well, why not apply at the post office? It’s fun sorting mail in the back room and flirting with the carriers. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the postmaster.”
In the lobby of the post office, Anna led her past the spittoons to the “Stamps and Money Orders” window, where a balding older man with a paunch sat behind the grill. “This is my friend Fanny,” she said, and hurried off to her work.
The postmaster lifted his green eye shade and stared at Fanny. “Oh please let him give me a job,” she prayed silently. “Even if I am a girl.” But he was appraising her coldly.
“So, young lady, what can I do for you?” His smile was condescending.
“Ahhh, do you have a job for me today?” Fanny quavered. She thought of the boring tatting hours on the couch, the red dress, all the things she could do with her life, if only.
“No, dear, not today.” He dismissed her.
But as Fanny walked home she turned his words over in her mind. “He said ‘not today,’ so maybe there might be a job tomorrow.” So the next day she came back.
“Do you have a job for me today?”
“No, dear, I told you, not today.”
And again. And again. Always the same question—and always the same answer, but each time a bit more emphatic. “I’ve told you every day this week—not today.”
Finally, on a snowy Thursday, his patience came to an end.
“All right, you want a job so bad? One of my mail carriers just came in drunk. Here, you deliver his route.” And he hung the heavy mail sack over her shoulder brusquely and waited for her to cry.
“Frances wouldn’t cry,” thought Fanny, biting her lip. “And that’s me.” She hiked the rough canvas strap up higher, stood straight under the load, and challenged him. “Okay, just tell me which streets.”
Anaconda was a wide-open copper smelting town with a neighborhood of bars and dives where the miners caroused. The route the postmaster had given her led right through this district. Fanny stopped at the sight of the row of bars lined up on Main Street. She drew a deep breath, looked through the mail sack and gathered up the letters for the first bar, Charlie’s Good Time Place. Fanny swung open the doors to the dark interior, but recoiled at the beery smell. Could she really do this?
Squaring her shoulders under the heavy sack, she stepped over the splintered wooden threshold and marched staunchly past the leering men lined up at the brass rail that ran the length of the bar. Holding her head high, she almost stumbled over a sleeping drunk stretched out on the floor. But she caught her balance on the edge of the bar, stepped over his prostrate body, and went on to the rear counter, where she delivered the mail to a bartender.
“What’s a sweet young thing like you doing in here?” he asked, wrinkling his brow.
“I’m just doing my job,” said Fanny, and turned on her heel to march back to the door. But she had delivered the mail; she’d done it. She went on to deliver the mail to the dozen more bars on Main Street and then to all the stores and houses on her route. The next day she came back—and the next, and the next.
At the end of the week she arrived on Main Street with her laden sack, ready to walk the gauntlet past the beer drinkers again. But as she turned the corner, she saw a row of mail boxes on short poles all down the street. The bartender from Charlie’s peeked out through the front window to see her reaction, and then came out beaming. “We all got together and put boxes for the mail out on the street so you wouldn’t have to come in to ‘do your job,’ brave little lady.”
Fanny felt a surge of gratitude for the gesture—but “little lady”? Never. That wasn’t Frances the Mail Carrier.
When Frances got her first paycheck, she bought the red dress and had her hair bobbed. Four years later, she left Anaconda for Los Angeles—where she became a flapper, danced the Charleston, and drank bathtub gin in speakeasies.
And worked for the post office for thirty more years.
About Patty Campbell
Patty Campbell is an editor, a writer, a literary agent, a former librarian, and a belly dancer. Her most recent books are War Is … Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk about War and Campbell’s Scoop: Reflections on Young Adult Literature. She is writing a memoir of her colorful life, and this is a vignette from that work.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Patty Campbell
The Olive Tree
By Saloua Saidane
For most Tunisians, an olive tree is a source of food and energy. They wait each year for the harvest season to collect the olives and transform them into an extra virgin olive, a beautiful transparent golden oil with a light tint of green, almost as thick as honey. The precious olive oil is usually shared with family, friends and neighbors. People love their olive oil, a magical elixir, for many reasons. Some believe in its medicinal values and drink a gulp of it every morning for breakfast; others eat it by dipping freshly baked bread in it. Once in your mouth, the oil triggers all your senses with its nutty and slightly bitter flavor. A taste that grabs your attention and stays with you, that seduces your palate and makes you want more. A true pleasure, a gift from the gods since the early civilizations of the Mediterranean region.
You can see rows and rows of these beautiful ancient trees covering the arid land of central coastal Tunisia. Through centuries, they have witnessed all the caprices of nature and learned to be patient. Their trunks are cracked and twisted from the many winds, yet they stand firm and resilient. They are not needy. Their roots reach down through deep layers of soil, sucking the scarce drops of water they find. They are simple survivors, their only purpose, to produce each year in the winter season beautiful small fruits that become the magical olive oil.
The olive tree in my childhood yard was huge by olive trees standards. Its branches stood tall, reaching in all directions, giving the tree a perfect round shape. Its leaves were lush, long and oval. Their colors reminded me of jade, shiny green on the top and a darker dull green-grey underneath. The trunk of the tree was short and seemed sunken in the ground from the heavy weight of its branches. It was as if the trunk was hiding, encouraging the observer to enjoy the beauty of its lush crown.
Tucked in a corner of our garden only a few feet from the walls of the house, our tree was consistent and undemanding. Its roots squeezed under the foundation of the house. Nobody took care of it or gave it much attention, yet it managed to survive feeding on filthy waters that ran through a small drain and emptied a few feet from its trunk. Nothing deterred that tree from surviving and bearing the most beautiful, meaty olives each year. Great olives that nobody cared to harvest. Some of the olives that fell on the ground were collected and soaked in brine in a large jar stored on the roof of our house. I imagined these gorgeous olives begging for a better use. I was sure they would have preferred to be pressed into a precious extra virgin olive oil. But their destiny was different: They ended their journey in brine, with their flavor, color and shape altered; trapped in a jar with no fluidity, what a sad conclusion. But maybe it was better than the olives that were never collected. They ended up abandoned to the soil, drying slowly from despair and disappearing into nature.
When we were young kids, during the long summer days, the tree provided us shade as if inviting us to keep it company. We gathered under its branches, playing with stones or simply telling each other stories. My father managed to tie a rope on one of its tallest branches, and we used it as a swing. The tree seemed to enjoy our innocent giggles and laughter and joy.
But as we grew older, things changed in our house, and so did the destiny of our olive tree. There were too many children and not enough space to contain them. When my father felt the need to control his daughters, my sisters and me, he would get a branch from the tree. He would select the longest branch. He would cut it with the sharpest knife. He would pluck away its beautiful lush leaves. Leaves that for centuries were a symbol of peace, glory and abundance, were discarded, useless. If they could have talked, they would have told my father to stop, but how can you blame them, that they didn’t have a voice. Once the branch was bare, my father would test it by whipping it in the air. It had to be strong, flexible and noisy, a noise that was light as it whipped up and louder on its way down to the target. It was an alert sound, as if asking you to get out of its way because it didn’t want to hurt you, as if the branch was weeping, begging for forgiveness for the pain it would cause. If the sound was not loud and sharp enough, my father would toss the branch in the garden and cut another one. The longer it took to find the perfect branch, the longer the agony of the anticipated torture. These preparations were under the watch of all the children, mute and motionless.
When the branch was ready, some of the kids would start crying, but the others who were the cause of my father’s anger would simply wait defiantly for the anticipated lashes. The longer and louder the younger children cried, the more defiant the older ones were and the harder my father hit. It was like a symphony that reached toward a crescendo, louder and louder sounds mixing together until one of them gave up. Sometimes it was the branch that gave up and broke. Other times it was the defiant child who gave up and started crying. On rare occasions, my father would give up from exhaustion. And then there was total silence, the entire joy and happiness machine in the universe having come to a stop.
I often wonder what my father would have done if the tree had not been there. He would probably have used his belt. That is what belts are made for, to beat people as hard as their wearers can. I don’t blame belts, but I felt sorry for our tree. My father made it his accomplice in violence. I think the olive tree was probably sorry for being healthy, alive. It possibly felt guilty, and that was why it tried hard to produce the best olives it could, to make up for the sorrow it was causing. But nobody really cared. How sad was the destiny of this tree, to go from witnessing joy to becoming the symbol of violence, the source of pain and suffering, a tool used to tame and subdue.
When my father was angry and hitting his disobedient daughters, my mother would stand there, watching and cheering him on. She would say, yes please hit more and longer. They deserve it. They need a lesson. They need to know who is in control here. And when my father was done, my mother would look at her daughters crying and her motherly instinct would kick in. She would say, “Stop crying now and go wash your faces.” That was all she could say. That was all she could do. But then as these torture episodes increased, my mother became angry and the anger became hatred, hatred of the tree. She hated it so much that she decided to get rid of it. A tree that stood there for at least half a century had to go. She said that the tree was getting too big, that it was going to damage the house because of its big roots. We never saw the roots, but my mother kept talking about them as though they were an evil creature crawling underground and slowly destroying our house. It was a war between my mother and the evil roots that wouldn’t stop growing.
One beautiful spring day, four strong men used their saws to cut down our olive tree. It took them an entire day to cut through the trunk. It was a slow death that I imagined caused the tree a lot of pain. It took almost a week to chop the tree into large pieces of wood and dig out all the roots the men could reach. We stood there witnessing its death quietly, just as the tree on so many occasions stood there watching our torture.
To this day, that tree is the symbol of all of us sisters: resilient, consistent, undemanding, and often unappreciated. We are like the leaves, symbols of peace, glory and abundance, shiny and beautiful on the surface and dull green-gray underneath. We tried hard to be the best we could, yet our destiny lacked fluidity. But, unlike the tree, we survived, we are older now, and we own our destinies, despite the damage done to us. We stand tall, trying to set free the past and move on to a brighter future worthy of our strength, hope and inner beauty. In each her own way, we carry the soul of our olive tree; we keep it sacred and blessed in our hearts.
About Saloua Saidane, PhD
Saloua Saidane, PhD, is a full-time assistant professor at the Chemistry Department of Mesa College. Educated in Tunisia, France, and the United States, Dr. Saidane has a keen awareness of the joys and challenges of diversity, and she is dedicated to making effective education accessible to all.
Photo credit: ©2014 Kit-Bacon Gressitt
By Beth Newcomer
Never wear white shoes or carry a straw purse after Labor Day.
Moisturize daily. Find a face cream you like and stay with it no matter what. And whatever you do, don’t neglect your throat.
Two-dollar bills are lucky and silver dollars are magical. Keep them in the false floor of your jewelry box. Don’t forget they are there.
Put away glasses and cups upside down on shelf paper. Change that shelf paper every spring when you take the winter coats to the cleaners to be put in mothballs.
Make green beans in the pressure cooker with bacon, sliced onion, peeled potatoes, and carrots. Even if you do not like carrots, add them anyway for color. Never, under any circumstances, prepare or serve beets. They are a loathsome vegetable, and a person who likes them should be kept under close scrutiny.
Which reminds me: You can’t count on men.
Be sure you always have a little money saved away someplace in case you need it. This is called “mad money”—available in the event you get mad or go mad.
Hold a piece of yourself untouched, even when you think you’re in love. If you give too much to a man at one time, he’ll waste you.
Never trust a woman with a name that ends in “ie” or “y.” Tammy, Susie, Laurie, Sherry—when they aren’t giggling morons, they are slutty cheerleaders who will steal your date.
When you prepare the laundry, it’s not enough to sort by color, but also by the texture and type of fabric. Use hot water and bleach on towels, sheets, and underwear. Never wash dishtowels with bath towels. Men do not know this. Never let a man do the laundry. Not that they ever would. In fact if you catch your man doing the laundry, make a note of it: He is undoubtedly up to something.
Being smart is more important than anything else. Nice gets you walked on. Pretty fades before you learn how to use it. Happy dissolves the moment you recognize it. But smart keeps you informed. And being informed will keep you armed. When armed you are safe.
Always serve beer cold with a frosted mug and a cocktail napkin. Put out a bowl of salted nuts. Store the mugs in the freezer and buy cocktail napkins for each season and holiday. Salted nuts keep a long time in the pantry and go well with beer when visitors drop by unannounced. The men will not use the mugs, but the women will—which is a good thing because you can swipe the lipstick from the rim of the glass and compare the color with the bright-pink smear on the Kleenex you found in the bathroom trash. Certainly it is not your shade; only sluts wear bright pink.
Patience is the most difficult virtue to develop, and the most worthy of the effort.
When another couple is coming over to play bridge on a Saturday night, be playful and affectionate with your husband in the afternoon. If he is relaxed it will be easier to read his mind. This will give you an advantage at the card table during the bid, and also later when the pitcher of Manhattans is empty and no one can tell the spades from the clubs anymore, and the four of you have left the card table and are lolling around on the sectional sofa down in the conversation pit. Let him feel relaxed and free to be himself, free to exchange a glance with Cindy, to touch her knee, to look at her again just a moment too long.
Watch him carefully. Watch and wait.
He’ll make mistakes.
Soon you will have enough evidence that you no longer need a confession to be vindicated.
Evidence is your comfort. Information is your power.
About Beth Newcomer
Beth Escott Newcomer is a Pushcart-prize nominee. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in many literary publications. She grew up on Normal Avenue in Normal, Illinois, but now lives in Fallbrook, California. To support her writing habit, she manages the Southern California-based graphic design firm she founded and helps promote her family’s cacti and succulent nursery. Two little white dogs follow her everywhere she goes. Sound Advice was first published by the Tulane Review, Fall 2012.
Photo credit: Shelley Panzarella via a Creative Commons license.
I Want a Sex Doll
By Sara Marchant
When my mother lived in Hemet, a neighbor in her senior apartments kept a sex doll. I use the word kept purposefully because a kept woman is what my mother thought the doll was when she first saw it and the neighbor treated his doll like a real woman.
My mother had called me, out of breath, to report that she saw a beautiful Eurasian woman staring plaintively out of her neighbor’s window, toward the apartment parking lot.
“I think that old pervert has ordered one of those Russian girls off the internet,” my mother informed me, truly upset. “But what if he’s holding her hostage? She looked so sad.”
I promised to come over and check it out, more interested than alarmed; her elderly neighbor seemed too frail to be holding a robust Russian hostage. My mother was half right, there was a beautiful Eurasian girl in the apartment, but she wasn’t alive. The doll had been moved into the living room by the time we strolled over and peered through the window. And least you think us nosy busybodies—what if he had been holding a powerless foreign woman against her will?
“That isn’t the outfit she was wearing in the bedroom earlier,” my mother whispered and her tone implied that the bedroom outfit had been rather risqué.
The doll was sitting on the sofa, dressed in a low-cut blouse and a mini-skirt. My mother’s elderly neighbor was lying on the sofa, his head in the doll’s lap. He wasn’t watching television or reading; he appeared to be napping. I took my mother’s arm and walked her back to her apartment.
“I’ve read about those dolls.” My mother shook her head. “Can you imagine keeping one in the open like that?”
“I’d love to have one,” I admitted. My mother’s mouth dropped open.
“They have vaginas,” she whispered, her words an indictment.
“Well, yeah. They are meant for sex.” I shrugged. “But I don’t care about that. It would be fun to dress her up, style her hair and put her in the car and use the carpool lane. It would freak people out.”
Disturbed by my desire, my mother changed the subject.
In the coming months, before she moved out of the senior apartments (“Old people are annoying,” was her justification), and aside from the occasional judging remark about her “pervert” neighbor and reports of the doll’s new “trampy” outfits, my mother forgot about the doll. But I did not. That lonely old man with his head in his doll’s life-size lap was one of the most poignant scenes I have ever witnessed.
The scene reminded me of why I became a writer. As a child I played with dolls, re-enacting the dramas and joys of life, working through the stresses of childhood with my plastic avatars. When I became too old for Barbies (and if you think one is never too old for Barbies, I must say my husband does not agree) I started writing the stories I use to enact.
Now, in my small room of my own, I write the dramas and joys of the world I live in, without the benefit of my small plastic friends. With pen and laptop I create, explore and question. And if sometime I wish for a life-sized Barbie to sit next to me, listen with her plastic smile to that day’s words and offer silent encouragement, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Just please don’t tell my mother.
About Sara Marchant
Sara Marchant is a Master of Fine Arts Candidate in Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside, Palm Desert. She lives in the high desert of Anza, California, with her husband, their canine children, and sundry poultry.
Photo Credit: Soapstart D’lux via a Creative Common license.
Taking Shower for the First Time
By Eszter Delgado
Slow motion water coming down
we could be together, doing this for hours.
Me outside the tub, her inside.
Her left side is skinny and weak,
leftover from polio as a child.
Spray drips and soap mesh together in bubbles floating down her curved back,
the skin, pulled down
evolved into curtains of age so flawless.
Who would have thought, years back, when we walked together while
blurred faced men yelled out things and whistled to my mom.
We held each other’s hand so tight. Don’t pay attention she said.
I asked Why do they do that?
walking to kindergarten
early grey morning quick step as we crossed the road
away from the loud men.
Pulling down the showerhead the water is warm
her eyes closed shut
I massage the shampoo, her delicate thinning hair
I love it, feels so good, I could fall asleep she says …
It seems like it has been days we are together, involved in this 4-beat time,
moving hands as water sings in pulsating rhythms.
All done now, All ready she says.
I wrap a pink towel around the upper part of her body.
Time has been gathered into essential movements,
consideration of where weight is placed,
we cautiously step out of the tub.
Hold on to me, Mama, I won’t let you fall.
About Eszter Delgado
Eszter Delgado received her BA in Art from Humboldt State University and earned a MFA from Claremont Graduate University. As an artist and poet her work integrates stories and narratives that evoke experiences from both the past and present. She is an arts educator and independent curator. She is currently co-curator of an exhibit at the Huntington Beach Art Center titled Word-up: Interactions Between Image and Text scheduled to open May 18, 2014.
Photo credit: Glen Bledsoe via a Creative Commons license.
A celebration of National Poetry Month
Date: Tuesday, April 8, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650
Bring your favorite poem or flash prose to share during open mic, and then be wowed by our featured poets—each with a wonderful and distinct way with words.
Poets will have their collections available for purchase and signing.
Learn about our featured poets:
Stacy Dyson Penny Perry Conney Williams
For more information about Writers Read, contact K-B Gressitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-522-1064.
A Short Story by Dan McClenaghan
I had to get out of the house. The women were coming. A baby shower for my daughter. Those things, I’ve found, can get rather raucous, and—not that they don’t say otherwise—I’m pretty sure none of them really want an old man hanging around.
I drove down to the beach access stairway with my binoculars and a cup of Starbucks, thinking I’d check out the horizon for migrating whales, but the first thing I saw on an otherwise deserted shore, on a cloudy mid-March afternoon, was two girls peeling out of their clothes and bouncing out into the surf: plump, playful young women, bubbling with the stuff of life.
They did their thing to the north of me, frolicking across the grey sand under a grey sky near the mouth of the lagoon that flows into the ocean, gulls circling overhead. One of them screamed as a wave dashed itself against her ripe flesh; the Pacific is cold at this latitude in the winter. The other dove into the churning white water and came up whooping.
Thirty—even twenty—years ago, I’d have turned my binoculars on them. But the shine has faded from that form of allure, especially concerning girls younger than my daughter. Now, a secretive and magnified peek would seem an intrusion, not so much into their nakedness, but into their sisterhood, their private communal exuberance and joy.
So I descended to the first landing on the wooden stairway, sat on a step, and opened the strong coffee I’d bought on the drive down, and I scanned the steel-blue water for signs of the cetacean migration.
The girls in short order pranced back to shore, collected rumpled clothing, wrapped themselves in large towels, and began a shivering trek to my stairs. I slipped the binoculars behind me. When they were halfway up the first section of stairway, the lead girl looked up and let out a small shriek, clasped a hand to a cuffing of towel above her breasts and said to her friend, “Look, Emily, it’s an old man!”
They giggled and padded around me, making the wooden steps creak as they ascended, smelling of sea brine and faintly diluted lotions, beads of ocean glistening like opals on their skin.
Old man, my ass, I thought, but I swiveled to follow their climb, to watch the roundness of their rumps under soft terry cloth, and I said, “How was the skinny dipping, darlins?”
A duet of bird song laughter, then the shorter, chubbier of the two spun around to face me and said, “When we do it, it’s called fatty dipping.” And with that she untucked her towel and spread its wings wide, making her partner in naughtiness howl with merriment and turn her exposed friend away from me.
Their high-spirited chittering faded as they topped the stairway, and it Dopplered off as they flew out over the bluff top like doves, and I turned back to the ocean, sucked in a deep breath of briny air, put my forehead in my hand and said, “Oh, darlins.”
About Dan McClenaghan
I write stuff. I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success. I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed. Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and four (soon to be five) beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!
Photo credit: Word Shore via a Creative Commons license.
By Penny Perry
for my son, Danny
The maid invited me
into the breakfast room
of your father’s home.
Your grandmother, her life
peeling away, sat like
a small onion in her wheelchair.
She smiled. “Abortions are illegal,”
she said. “But our doctor will do one
if you tell him you’re mentally ill.
You’d be an unfit mother.”
I placed my hand over my belly.
Danny, you were a fiery hub
that kept me spinning.
I was hot iron, the wheel
of a chariot rolling us both
through that great house
onto the cool grass where
even a robin poking for worms
My scuffed sandals left tracks
on the freshly mown lawn.
About Penny Perry
A three time Pushcart nominee, twice for poetry and once for fiction, my stories and poems have been widely published in literary magazines. Fiction Daily tagged my short story “Haunting the Alley,” published online in Literary Mama in August 2011. My first collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage, was published in 2012 by Garden Oak Press. The collection earned praise from Marge Piercy, Steve Kowit, Diane Wakoski, and Maria Gillan. I was the fiction editor for Knot Literary Magazine, a Middle Eastern literary journal. I was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute, and my movie A Berkeley Christmas aired on PBS. And, I’ve just completed a novel about a school shooting. I write under two names, Penny Perry and Kate Harding.
Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via a Creative Commons license.