Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Grey Johnson

All the Reasons

I bring you little gifts, set them around the room, and study you as you walk, watching you touch them one at a time in the afternoon light, with the drapes drawn against the heat. You tilt your head, and give me a sort of doubt I enjoy, for I can never tell if you like a thing until you lift your eyes. The moment before you look up is endless and staggering, and I feel like a puppy – which I despise but cannot resist.
You put your feet on my coffee table, and your gentle knees know how to smile. Sometimes I hate to touch you because of it. It has been months, but I still cannot believe I let you dab lipstick on my mouth, as I was rubbing my hair with a towel. It was an ambush, and I surrendered out of shock and confused pleasure. You know, sometimes you get face powder on the tops of your eyelashes, and since I cannot think of a gentle enough way to remove it, I do not. Then I feel guilty for letting it stay.
I am distracted by the subtle colors and textures of all your lingerie, and sometimes I want to ask you to leave it on longer, but I do not, which makes me feel childishly shy. You never ask for anything, so I feel preoccupied with trying to predict your wants. I think I have even forgotten how to carry on a conversation, since you coax me with questions, and I fret that you will find me dull. Once we part, I predictably think of hundreds of things to say. It is such a fucking cliché. I resent your ease with words.
Your motions are so deliberate and graceful to me, that I lose track of time as you flip the pages of a magazine. I refuse to talk about your smell, or your lips, or your hair, or your skin, or the sound of your breathing, or the way you grace your hands over me as you sleep and keep me awake half the night. You exhaust me, and when we are together for more than a day, I am so tired I feel as if I am dreaming, sweetly, on my feet.
Recently, I have begun going to ridiculous lengths to keep my apartment clean, even scrubbing the faucet handles with an old toothbrush. I cannot figure out why I want you to teach me to iron, because I know this will be interpreted as a milestone gesture, and I am not ready to make it. Yet I fantasize about the steam curling around your hand, the creaking sound of the ironing board, and the smoothing of the wrinkles. I know it will be work not to warn you against getting burned. I should be rational, and realize I do not have time to spend worrying over collars and cuffs. That is why I take my shirts to the cleaner – but the comforting image remains.
There is a rhythm to our communication now, a dependability that feels stifling, yet when I do not talk to you, it seems the day yawns rudely in my face. I can never understand the tone of your emails, and I am crushed or made furious constantly, only to discover your humor later, as you laugh at my responses. Clearly, you do not understand my tone either, and it makes me feel isolated from you and somehow lonely. This is the exact opposite of what I need.
I feel itchy and annoyed all the time. You give me strange thoughts about housekeeping, and insecurities about being able to communicate. You cause me endless doubt. You take unwelcome liberties with my furniture and my lips. Yet, I allow all of it - but why do I do this?
It makes no sense at all, because I do not love you.

© Grey Johnson 2011

Grey Johnson lives in a small town in northeastern South Carolina. Her garden is very important to her, and so are her dogs. She reads and knits rectangles, but seldom knows what to do with them. She doesn’t have a blog or website, but writes some on the Six Sentence Social Network. You can also check out her brilliant little collections on Issuu.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

J.O. Vaughn

JULIANNA ~ MAY 2008

I told Oskar that when I had been younger a group of my friends and I had gone to the Village Tavern one night for dinner and it’s when I had my first grand mal seizure. I’ve been afraid to return all these years and now I’m standing in front of the restaurant. My heart is pounding and I tell myself it’s just a mild panic attack, not a seizure, I’ll be fine. I must look completely petrified because Oskar has his hand on the small of my back rubbing it gently. His voice tickles my ear as his whispers, “I just figure it’d be one last fear to have to face. Only thing left is marriage and that should be a walk in the park after tonight.”
He has no idea how many fears I have to conquer, points in my life I have to face, so that marriage isn’t frightening to me at all, at the present. It’s strange, I understand his logic and pushing the visions of my past away, agree with his sound advice and take the initiative to walk inside. The waitress seats us together and I nearly burst out laughing when she asks Oskar if his wife was coming to join us.
“This is my wife,” he takes my hand and pulls me to sit beside him. The woman is stunned but I’m not surprised, I may be twenty-nine but I am constantly mistaken for a teenager or a college freshman. In all my years there has only been one stranger to guess my age correctly and when I asked how he’d done it he said it was because I’d told him I’d been in Winston ten years and he assumed that’s when I came for college.
“Our menus,” Oskar motions the waitress who is still staring blankly before apologizing as she gives us the menus. Before she starts to walk away, she returns realizing she never asked for our drink orders.
“Ice tea for me and water without ice for her,” he catches her before she has gotten out of sound range, “and a small bowl of lemon slices please.”
I’m smiling. I am being continually amazed by Oskar, “Your wife?”
He shrugs, “I was your fiancée the other night. Why not my wife now?” He pauses before asking if I’m feeling alright and I nod. I don’t want to mention that where I am sitting right now is the exact some space I was in the night of my seizure but then he asks, “What was it like?”
“What was what like? My seizure?”
He nods.
I’m flabbergasted, I don’t know how to explain something like that, “It was just, ‘gone’, I can imagine everyone being frantic, ‘Is there a doctor in the house!’ and all that, but I was just gone. No day dreaming or whatever, I’m just giving the waiter my order, freeze – the girls said in like a Michael Jackson’s Thriller monster pose - and then waking in an ambulance strapped to a table.”
“I’d been on a stretcher before. Had a minor heart attack – if there is such a thing – didn’t seem minor to me. I really hate those damned things, make me feel like I was already in a coffin except decorated like a UFO or something, all these wires and gizmos, alien looking people sticking things in me, interrogating me,” he sees my concern and pulls me close, “Ah, don’t worry, I was a stupid kid, wasn’t taking care of myself. Got a dietician, physical trainer – sad to say I think this belly is going to be with me for some time but I’m a lot better off than I was a few years ago.”
His arms are so secure, I feel sheltered and feel myself melting into him, I want to fall asleep and probably would have if the waitress hadn’t returned with our drinks. She asks if we’re ready yet and Oskar orders for the both of us: 8 oz steaks, both medium rare, but with different side dishes so – he explains later – we can share and have a wider variety. He says we can order more if we’re still hungry but after I’d had their double layer cheesecake he doubts I’ll be able to stomach anything else.
I wish there were more men who listened to their dates. Everything he’s done tonight he remembered either from my profile – where I mentioned my love of mandarin oranges and steak (the side dishes he ordered for my plate were on the list too) or from our first night together at Borders when I mentioned Village Tavern and why I only drink water on a typical outing. I’d only sipped at the smoothie he’d bought me because too much sugar makes me ill and I wanted our date to last all night.
I stand and move over to the other side of the table. He looks at me curiously and I explain how stunned I am at the moment, not just by what he’d done but by the fact we are in the same exact both and for a moment I was in the same exact seat as when I had had my seizure. He gets out of the booth and I think he’s going to ask the waitress for another table but instead he pulls me out of my seat and forces me into his, “I think it’ll be better for you if you sit here tonight. It’ll give you some confidence when you see that nothing happens and it’s not because you were sitting in a different seat.”
I can feel the adrenaline rushing through my body, it’s a fight-or-flight instinct and if I hadn’t noticed people looking at us I might have resisted but instead I just go sit where I was told like a good little girl and spend the rest of the night holding myself together. It takes a lot out of me to control myself and I spend most of the night reminding myself that this isn’t the start of a seizure, the Lamictal I have coursing through my body will continue to keep me strong, this is just nerves, panic, and it’ll be over soon.
God, I think to myself, just don’t make me throw up tonight.

FYODOR – MAY 2008
   JULIET (22:43:10): Fyodor!
   ROMEO (22:24:17): What’s wrong?
   JULIET (22:24:28): I think I blew it. Me and Oskar.
   ROMEO (22:24:32): Why?
   JULIET (22:24:40): He hasn’t answered my email. Hasn’t called me.
   JULIET (22:25:30): Well.
   ROMEO (22:25:34): Well what?
   JULIET (22:25:41): What should I do?
   ROMEO (22:25:43): Wait.
   ROMEO (22:27:39): You always jump to conclusions when you think someone doesn’t like you or is stopping likeing you. Just chill and I’m sure he’ll call. When did you send the email?
   JULIET (22:28:01): About twenty minutes ago.
   JULIET(22:28:13): I guess you’re right.
   ROMEO (22:28:13): Twenty minutes, give him time.
   JULIET (22:29:41): He probably isn’t even home yet.
   ROMEO (22:30:07): He just dropped you off?
   JULIET (22:30:09): Yes.
   ROMEO (22:30:22): Darlin’, you really need to take a breath. Breathe with me now. In...
   ROMEO (22:30:24): Out…
   ROMEO (22:30:26): In…
   ROMEO (22:30:29): Out…
   ROMEO (22:30:35): Release the tension.
   ROMEO (22:30:38): Out…
   ROMEO (22:30:46): Release the fear.
   ROMEO (22:30:50): In…
   ROMEO (22:31:10): Feel better?
   JULIET (22:31:15): I guess
   ROMEO (22:34:07): Honey, I’m happy for you, just relax and if he wants to be with you as much as you say, he’ll write. Hell, I don’t know what you said but I’m sure it’s nothing bad. You have a very poetic nature. It’ll be beautiful and … just don’t worry.
   JULIET (22:34:15): Ok. You’re right. I just – I’m tired, I’ll guess I should just go to bed so I don’t dwell on it.
   JULIET is OFFLINE.

I want to hit the monitor. I stomp my foot like a little child who isn’t getting what he wanted from Wal-Mart. She gets obsessive, her desire for the love and support she’s never gotten. She stays with me but she has never been the same since our night together in her dorm room. I’m the one to heal her body and apparently Oskar has been chosen to heal her soul. I really want to hurt this man, whomever he is.

© J.O. Vaughn 2011

J.O. Vaughn lives in Winston-Salem, NC where she spends most of her time researching, having a passion for knowledge, which she uses for her writing. She appreciates constructive criticism.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sandra Davies

Arc of Adaptation

The circumstances of her first time taken had added to the hurt. The confusion and the absence of her father and her brothers, her being left alone, knowing but unknowing danger, never known before, the dark and pain of edge of stone pressed in her back, of hands on thighs and throat, of alien breath too close of tongue too wet and wetness elsewhere grunt and shove and shout of strangeness, pain within ...

But she had become accustomed, had understood, in time, his need, at times had felt it too ...

And then he died.

A new man - he said men called him Yarl - had claimed her as his woman even as the body of the other lay still-fleshed, unstripped, unburied, rites not yet performed. His haste prevented her from mourning chaste as was the custom, gave her too small a space of time to pay the honour due and so she broke the ring to acknowledge that first man had been a man of worth, had begat a son on her and she’d been glad to bear him such.

This new man, this Yarl, was much younger than the man before; near to her and not so much her father. Black haired, his striding loud, cocksure, roughshod across her life had made her angry from the first with him. She respected, for his rank, but did not like, had refused to be submissive even to be sure she would survive. But also from the first the urgency of Yarl told her she had some power, though she wanted not to let him see he had it too. Perhaps such skills were also learnt with rank ...

Having power stopped her hurt – or was it that she would not let herself be hurt that gave her power? For that he’d chosen told her she had something that he wanted, something that he thought she would supply. She knew such wanting was worth knowing, for the fact it gave her worth.

She asked what other than her body was it that he sought from her and he told her that her value lay in family land, in tribal name, in ancestors, for land with men all gone was then known and held by women and her status as a woman of the white tail eagle tribe did add to and increase what was already his.

She told this Yarl, ‘You do not, cannot own my ancestors’ and he to her surprise did say he knew that but the sons that she would have by him would call them theirs and thus the land would stay with those who owned by birthright not by force.

‘Why force?’ she asked since he was calm and listening and he told her that her family men had been too few, too weak, had failed to fight for what was theirs, deserved to lose their women and their lives, to lose their freedom and their birthright. He told her that his people risked their lives for land, in seeking land on journeys across sea and if and where they won it was they who were entitled to the land and to the women and the sons that they would bear.

‘My first born son should rank above all sons of yours since he was born of your people.’

‘He will not: his father was of lesser rank, was a fighter not a leader, you cannot insist ...’ and she knew he had both power and the mind to take him - not kill, but send away since boys could work elsewhere - and she stayed silent so that she would keep her first born son nearby and safe from harm - accepting since she had no choice.
But first to him she had a daughter.

And then she was afraid.

For she knew that one might be allowed to live in times of glut of fish and meat, in times of health and wealth, but rarely more than one and only then when sons had come before.
She would not plead for that would weaken her, and she was certain he was hard enough to do the deed himself. But the first - his first - he had allowed to live, and the second was a son, and he was proud and then the third another girl but first had caught his heart and he could not end the second daughter’s life, knowing what she could become, and in hope of times of glut.

And for that, from the first of his reprieving, and doubly so the second, she had changed her view that he was not a man to like.

© Sandra Davies 2011

Sandra Davies is an artist and printmaker and recently-emerged writer of fiction, with a long-established interest in family history. Born on the Essex coast, she now lives in Teesside in the north east of England, both places having the flat landscapes and sea-edged horizons considered essential for a sense of well-being. More writing can be found at lines of communication and some prints at Print Universe
This piece can be found in Sandra's excellent book Edge which comprises Curve of Early Learning, Arc of Adaptation, and Circle of Celebration

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Joe Gensle's "The Battery"

See, that's what they call the combination of a pitcher and catcher in baseball. And that's what we were, a battery, going back to when we were little kids.
Tommy and I were 5 when our parents moved into brand new houses across the street from each other. I spotted him in his front yard one day, throwing a baseball into the air as high as he could and catching it. I walked over and said, "Hi, I'm David and we moved into that house," turning to point at what had been a model home. He said "Hi" back, and I asked him if I could get my mitt, if he wanted to play catch.
I bet we played catch or whiffle ball in his yard more than 350 days a year, ‘cuz it didn‘t rain much in the desert. All through elementary school and into freshman year, we were out in front with our gloves, throwing a ball back and forth, even doing grounders and stuff.
He's right-handed and I'm a leftie. He used to say that the arc in my natural curve could go through his front door, turn right, and sail down his hallway. I guess it could, because I actually had to concentrate to throw a straight fastball. Tommy said I was crazy if I didn't want to be a pitcher, and that if that's what I wanted, too, then he should be a catcher because who else could handle that curve, had more experience at it?
When we were about 13, my practice goal was to build-up my speed, and to learn how and when to throw a killer change-up. Tommy's older brother, Bob, told Tommy, early-on, "Catching isn't enough. You need a big swing!" And, boy, did he ever learn how to hit. Bob was already in college, and started taking Tommy to the batting range three or four times a week. It was Bob's idea for us to go to the high school field some weekends, and Bob would catch me while Tommy hit.
At first, Bob and I would laugh when I'd throw a real bender to the plate, and the frustrated look on Tommy's face when he swung and missed it by a mile doubled us over. Sure, it made Tommy madder, but it made him concentrate, more determined. I'd put my mitt over my face to keep Tommy from seeing me laugh--his temper boiling over to the point of quitting. But he wasn't a quitter. Ever.
By our sophomore year, Tommy and I made varsity, and we were starters. Junior and even senior girls began to acknowledge our existence, but we knew it was only because we had letter sweaters. Not only were we starters, I got five wins in six starts that year. And I wouldn't have lost that one if we hadn't had errors by the shortstop, second baseman, and a couple missed and dropped balls in the outfield.
I know nobody's perfect, but that kinda hurt, you know? You throw your best stuff and, for all time, have to see your name next to "Losing Pitcher" in the record books and articles.
That was the first year our high school ever made the division playoffs, and we made it to the final round. The team that beat us and made it to the state championship got some dumb luck. Our starter got blasted for a couple homers in the tie-breaker, and we had, again, suffered the ‘Curse of Oops" with our gloves, as Coach Brown called it. "Oops" meant, "Out Of Practice, Son!," and when so cursed at practice, Brown called us "Hone-Yocks," "Yoders." We never did figure out what that meant, but at least he didn't cuss us out like other teams' coaches did.
We won the state championship our junior year. I had a perfect season. Tommy hit .413, led our division in batting, set a record for doubles, and we both made All-State. It was cool seeing our names in the newspaper sometimes, and we clipped-out the pictures from the three times they featured us on the high schools' page. The sportswriter guy mentioned I might start getting attention from pro scouts as long as I didn't burn-out my arm or get hurt, and merely continued to develop as 16-year olds do. Jim Hawkins, the sportswriter, even wrote about Tommy, saying "Johansson may even have a better shot at the pros than Petrie, because catchers just don't wield the big stick like this kid can hit. You just don't see batting power like that in catchers anywhere in today's majors."
The morning after we won state, we made the front of the sports page: "Electric Battery Clinches Title for Washington High." My fastball had been on fire, my curve was baffling the Brophy squad, and the change-up I had perfected, according to the article, "Embarrassed Brophy's batters all the way back to the dugout in Petrie's dazzling 12-strikeouts, 4-hit, shut-out performance." It went on, "Tommy Johansson, the other half of the ‘Electric Battery,' scored 4 RBIs on two doubles and a home run that sailed over dead center field that is probably still rolling, smashed with power this writer has never witnessed in a solo shot."
In the season opener our senior year, I got the start because St. Mary's Catholic High stole lots of great players from all over town, giving them scholarships, and seemed to field an all-star team every year. They, like the all-boys Catholic high school (Brophy College Prep) recruited city-wide, always earned a slot in the playoffs, and were serious inter-division rivals.
Four innings in, electric-like pings started in my elbow. It didn't hurt, but sure didn't feel good. I found that if I adjusted my motion, it wasn't so bad. But, after about ten pitches with the change in my mechanics, all of a sudden it felt like someone hit the inside of my shoulder with a rubber sledge hammer. I shook my mitt off my right hand, and grabbed my shoulder. Tommy flung his mask down and charged the mound. Coach Brown screamed, "TIME! TIME OUT! TIME!" at the ump about a hundred times all the way to the mound. I told 'em I was okay, not that bad, but I couldn't finish.
We had a two-run lead, and Preston, who sometimes had control problems, was called to warm-up on the mound as I went to ‘ride the pines,' as Coach Brown called sitting on the bench. Mr. Sheets, the assistant coach, had a towel full of ice from the cooler ready to wrap my shoulder, numbing the pain.
Preston threw a few warm-ups, and Tommy kept looking over at me on the bench. I knew he was all weirded out, wondering how bad it was.
The first batter flied out. Then, this guy Danielson stepped-up. Tommy kept glancing over so many times I had to wave him off. Preston's first pitch to the right-handed batter was way outside, and Tommy had to lunge to snag it. Tommy's look to me said, "Oh crap, Preston's a wild!" the foreboding thought I shared.
The world went into slo-mo. Tommy was shooting me a look as Preston's fastball left his hand, heading inside. This guy Danielson stepped back so the barrel of the bat--not the handle--unleashing a vicious swing. As he did, Tommy, for whatever reason, stuck his head too far in and the bat clipped the edge of the Tommy's mask.
Two neck surgeries and three months later, Tommy was still hospitalized, in traction, paralyzed from the neck down. He'd be in a motorized wheelchair, forever. After school and practices and games…I visited every day. Lots of those days, all we said was "Hi," because he didn't feel like talking.
We won the College World series, and I was offered a pro contract after my junior year at Arizona State. Clipping after clipping compared me to the all-time great lefties, "The Next Juan Marichal" or Whitey Ford or Sandy Koufax.
I signed with the Giants, and wouldn't have signed with any team that had Spring Training outside of Arizona. I, not Danielson, put Tommy in that chair by hurting my shoulder and I owed him a life. Tommy never agreed.
Tommy went to every Spring Training game. I flew him to San Francisco, and arranged for him to be in the dugout for my first start as a major leaguer. We won, 1-0. Tommy was ecstatic when I ran off the field from teammate hugs and high-fives to hug Tommy in his chair.
He cried when I handed him the game ball of my first win. "We'll always be the ‘Electric Battery,' buddy, even if yours has to roll you into the cheap seats at my games," and we laughed as only lifelong friends can.

© Joe Gensle 2011

Joe Gensle lives in the Desert Southwest with his dog Coconut. He enjoys international travel, music composition, and is working on a novel. He frequently lurks at sixsentences.ning.com and at headseeds.blogspot.com

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