March 27, 2012 § 5 Comments
You pat the bench next to you and I come and sit. Reverently, you lift your hands and push back the wooden lip covering the keys, yellowed like old people’s teeth. My fiveyear-old hands can’t span an octave, but you demonstrate an arpeggio in C major and I do my best to duplicate it. Sunlight slips in through the ground-level window to ignite the dust motes. Evening is coming fast and soon Mother will call down the stairs. Grandma will have cookies and milk laid out for us but there won’t be time before dinner. You will have to eat them without me. For now, though, the notes and the slight gasoline smell from the garage combine to cement you in my memory. Two years from now it will be all I have.
Jody Strimling-Muchow is a writer, actor, and knitter who masquerades as a legal secretary by day. She lives with her husband, two dogs and one cat in a lovely little house in Dutchess County, NY.
Image: Fishing, By Stephen Martin
March 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
A constant visitor in my grandmother’s pornographic lingerie store was Mr. Louie Farina, a square, short Italian man, owning a face like a pock-marked lemon. He was a daily permanent fixture and not on payroll. Family history or home address was never known to grandma. His Hart & Schaffer suits fit like a glove that had been hot-glued to his lumpy body. No “Soft Spot” beige vinyl shoes for Mr. Farina, rather he wore exotic crocodile shoes that seemed to slither on the pink and black floor tiles. Rumor had it years ago he was a member of the New Orleans Italian Mob and met grandma while purchasing lingerie for a hooker. Their friendship blossomed and in return for sexy underclothing he would “fix” things for her – parking tickets, lawsuits and angry customers who bitched that the merchandise was too expensive. He also was a liaison between hotels and her store. Mr. Farina made sure the mirrored storefront became a popular location for a steady stream of hookers and husbands away from home while insisting that Greyhound tour buses stop at Joan’s front door. Tourists plunged out of the bus and were herded immediately into the shop – like an adult Disneyland where the merchandise emerges whether you want it or not. Mr. Farina had an accomplice named “Blackie,” a short, skinny man in a cheap suit. Blackie helped Joan in the muscle department, taking care of anyone who got on her bad side. After all, she was one to snap easily. The pressure was on and my grandmother was the Jaws of Life regarding porn attire. She was the hydraulic rescue tool that extricated the victim — meaning customer. They had no choice but to buy something.
“Madam, you look fabulous. The mens will love you! There’s nothing to be afraid of. Stick out your bosom big and be proud. Your bosom is your crown!” Grandma yelled in her Viennese/Bavarian/Hebrew dialect.
“Well, yes,” said the usual victim.” “It does feel a little tight…but…I’ll get used to it…I…guess.”
Blackie loved Grandma and did as he was told. Over the years during my childhood, he had been in and out of prison and normally ate a celebratory dinner with Joan each time he was released from jail. Joan insisted he get fed in a more civilized way after being released from the pen. So, in reality, he could have lunch in jail and suck down lobster ravioli for dinner at Commander’s Palace, a five-star New Orleans restaurant. My family had mobster worship. They loved the intrigue, the danger of getting caught and always in hopes of meeting Don Corleone or Vito. The distinct smell of money travelled through the air surrounding me at all times, like leaves in autumn. Expensive perfume mixed with a “cash-like” aroma and you knew you were with the New Orleans mob alongside an X-rated depository of underclothing for the secretive – inside my grandmother’s store.
Bizarre family eccentricities provided Cindy Small a wealth of black humor laced with arsenic. Her memoirs are a field guide for the aficionado of a particularly rare breed of bird, daughters of Viennese Holocaust survivors living in New Orleans.
You can get in touch with Cindy here: csmall223 (at) aol (dot) com
Image: Firehorse, By Pirjo Zeylon
March 14, 2012 § 4 Comments
Signs of Life in Atlanta
Kathleen Brewin Lewis
I. A River Runs Through It
This is a city of automobiles. One long gray highway encircles it; other roads slice it up into an asymmetrical pie. I crisscross the pie in my car, taking myself, my children to the places we’re supposed to be. If I’m lucky, I travel over the Chattahoochee River at least once a day. In the mornings, a thick, soft mist hangs over the river. In the afternoons, solitary fishermen unfurl their lines. I sit up straight in the driver’s seat to catch a glimpse of waterway and water birds over the concrete barriers. What I see calms me. “You are saving my life!” I want to yell to the rocky river, into the wind and roar of the traffic, “You are saving my life.”
There you are, standing by my swimming pool. I’ve never seen you before, but I know who you are. And you are more handsome than I’ve been led to believe. Your presence explains the missing cat signs around the neighborhood and why I never see brown bunnies on the lawn anymore. And all the while I’ve been watching you, you have never taken your golden eyes off of me. I am the one who finally looks away.
III. Serpentine Stanzas
Glory be to God for dappled things, the poet-priest wrote, but when I see the mottled copperhead lying just ahead on the path, I’m not inclined to sing its praises. Instead I utter the name of the Son of God, grab my walking companion’s arm, and pull her back. We watch, mesmerized and horrified, as the thick, muscular creature slides into the brown leaves.
Once I was weeding the perennial bed in my garden and reached deep into the day lilies. When I pulled my hands up, they were full of wild strawberries, lengths of green vine, and the dry, speckled tatters of a snakeskin.
There is awe and there is fear. And I’m afraid that when it comes to snakes, dappled or otherwise, I can be awfully unappreciative.
IV. Where the Geese Shop
I walk out of the Nordstrom’s at Perimeter Mall and find them loitering in the parking lot: a dusty-gray gaggle of Canadian geese, just standing there, coal-black stockings on their skinny legs, strings of pearls encircling narrow necks.
V. Back to the River
Everywhere I look there is work to be done: the feeding of the poor, the rescue of damaged children, a need to understand the diminishment of the agéd. There are also the dishes, smeared with the remnants of a rich stew, clumps of yellow day lilies in want of division, windows perpetually smudged because a resolute cardinal keeps pecking to come in. When I walk along the river, I note with envy the grace of the great blue heron, which opens its wide wings and sails across the water, walks with delicacy along the bank, and always seems to know which way to turn.
Kathleen Brewin Lewis is an Atlanta writer whose work has appeared in Weave, Loose Change Literary Magazine, The Prose-Poem Project, Long Story Short, and Like the Dew. She is also an editor for the online literary journal, Flycatcher: A Journal of Native Imagination.
Image: Water and Leaves, By Sandra Jensen
March 7, 2012 § 5 Comments
Real or Imagined
Rebecca Bielik Zick
Needle sharp, needle sized points of itching flare over her back, possibly thirty of them. She really shouldn’t count. A few spark on her arms. She feels one or two prickle on her butt and maybe some are scattered over her thighs. Probing for these far flung irritations goes against popular wisdom.
She must consider the flares don’t exist at all.
One November on the five hundred mile car ride to the cold North, wearing a sweater pulled out of a box, the itching first started. She fought the attack waged by the inside of her sleeve with full bore scratching, with reason and when those failed, with dissociation. She’d never been allergic to wool, and in any case, the sweater was most likely a cotton/poly blend.
By the time they cleared Kentucky, she had a full blown epidermic calamity: welts rising all over her right arm. She took off the sweater. She didn’t wear that or any other sweater the entire Thanksgiving holiday. She wore short sleeves. She tried drug store ointments. Regardless of sensible interventions, when she wasn’t on her parent’s couch sleeping the sleep of the catastrophically bereaved, she watched the spreading paths and hillocks.
Her family, a living daughter, a husband, a sister, a mother and a father all thought she was nuts. When did “dust” accumulate in a sweater washed before it was cleanly packed in a taped box, gain such power? They didn’t believe in such dust, and even if there were dust, they didn’t believe in its atomic capacity for contact dermatitis. She has a sense of humor, and so Phantom Itch was born. With medicine, extreme will power and time the first occupation by Phantom Itch dissipated.
She never donned, before a thorough wash and two rinse cycles, a single item of clothing from a box again, and yet Phantom Itch continued to visit. It’s a running family joke now and she faced the possibility of hysterical symptoms. How could she avoid it when one summer vacation, she had inexplicable traveling pain in one arm, and the repeated need to ask her daughter, “Am I drooling?” as she swiped at the corners of her mouth, coming up dry fingered every time.
And so tonight, she won’t think about dust accumulated in the fabric of the rental home’s furniture. Once or twice, with lightning speed, she bats away visions of mites until she can suppress them altogether. She does fantasize taking Benadryl, purchased on arrival against the possibility of mosquitos and sand fleas.
And the prickling itches that scatter like evil fairy dust over her skin?
She’ll never know if they are real or imagined. She does know the fallout of tragedy can linger in the most absurd, in the smallest ways. She can take the itches. She’s glad, more than ecstatic, that she can keep them in their place, that she has more choices with which to accommodate her mind than the question of craziness or slumber.
Image: Wood and Stone, By Stephen Martin