Thursday, May 31, 2012

Suvi Mahonen

Bobby

Strands of light blue twisted, crossed over, then sank into the expanse of knitted wool only to emerge at the next stitch and repeat the pattern again. They ran in parallel symmetry, converging up to the pompom at the top of the cap. Around the circumference of the brim ran a border of yellow on which marched small embossed elephants, each holding the tail of the one before it with its trunk. Fine wisps of dark hair the same colour as Nick’s curled out from beneath the edge to cling to its fuzzy surface in places. When we’d bought it eight weeks ago I’d thought it was too small to fit anyone, but Nick had correctly guessed it would be the right size.
The skin of Bobby’s forehead not covered by the cap was furrowed as if caused by a frown. This accentuated his eyebrows, delicate lines of barely there hair on the ledge of his sockets, inclining medially upwards to form an arc at the top of the bridge of his nose. His nose was short, more like a nubbin, tilted slightly upwards at the end like mine; its tip was a little raw, as if wiped by a tissue one too many times.
I ran my finger over the smooth and doughy surface of his swollen lips. Velvety glossed skin a few centigrade cooler than mine. Drooping in loose repose, colour not right, a dusky shade of purple.
He lay in my arms, loosely wrapped in a green flannel blanket, the back of his head resting in the crook of my left elbow. His body was both light and also strangely heavy. I held my arms still though there was no reason why. Looking at him I tried to align our eyes. His lids were parted slightly, a hint of blue between moist lashes. As I sat there, propped with three plastic-covered wipe-down pillows between my back and the bed’s head, I kept wanting, almost waiting for those eyes to blink.
Nick sat on the edge of the bed, arm on my shoulder, looking at our Bobby. Afternoon light angled in through the window and cast Venetian-striped contrasting shadows on our son’s already mottled cheeks. My finger moved downward tracing his chin, then onwards across his jaw to his left ear, curving to avoid an open patch of sloughed skin. It wasn’t the only one. There were two on his right cheek and a large one on the side of his neck, the full extent of its angry margins concealed by the collar of his Peter Rabbit jumpsuit. Made of the softest white cotton, it was the outfit I’d planned for our baby to wear on his first trip back to our home. Across the garment multiple little rabbits sat on their haunches, cheeks puffed with chewing, holding a large carrot whose tip was missing. Sewn into the outside seam of the left shoulder was a tiny blue tag saying this was a genuine item. Matching mitts and booties were still in the bag.
I moved aside a fold of blanket so I could see more of him. His left arm was angled, bent at the elbow, resting on the front of his chest. The embroidered cuff of the suit’s sleeve was hitched a short way up the forearm. Between the rim of the cuff and the base of Bobby’s closed fist circled a thick clear plastic band fastly secured. In the pocket of the band a slip of paper had words typed on it in small letters, the portion visible to me saying, ‘Baby of Alicia Rus …’ The bend over his wrist’s bony prominence obscured the rest. A vein line of discolouring more pronounced than that of the skin went up the back of his hand to the fourth knuckle dimple. Lifting his hand gently I straightened his four fingers and thumb from their loose clench. The webbing between them was puffy and wrinkled, like he’d been soaking in a tub for too long. Such small and frail digits despite their also waterlodden state, the creases over their joints swollen to mere faint lines. On his distal pads were enlarged whorls of print. Opaque slivers of flesh were peeling back from around the nails. I closed his fingers again, covering his hand with mine.
We remained in silence.
Me, my husband and our baby.
I was conscious of sounds from outside the room—muffled voices, the ping of a call bell and the diminishing roll of a trolley. But these didn’t enter my reverie. The only noise that was real to me was the whistle of breath from my nostrils and the clicking of the clock’s second hand. A mere moment in time, yet this seemed like forever.
‘Would you like an autopsy to be performed?’ Dr Taylor had asked us.
‘Is it necessary?’ I said.
‘It’s your choice. But it may help to find out exactly what went wrong.’
‘We’ll think about it,’ Nick said.
Dr Taylor stood there by the side of my bed. His gaze kept shifting between Bobby and the green blanket. From the edge of my eye I saw his hands move to cross each other and rest at the front of his belt. Speckles of blood soiled the cuffs of his white shirt. I wanted him to leave but also needed him to stay. It was as if I had the delusion that he was somehow able to reverse this. He remained there for a few more awkward minutes then made his excuses and left the room with a final ‘Sorry’.
It was then that Nick had put his arm around my shoulder, and we stayed that way with Bobby cradled against my swelled breasts that were aching with the need to lactate.
‘You haven’t called my mum yet, have you?’ I asked Nick as I held onto Bobby’s hand.
‘Do you want me to?’
I shook my head. Once our families knew, it would be real.
I stared across the room at the wall opposite. Glints of slatted sunlight reflected off the glass that protected a framed painting. A lamb standing on a hill’s green slope. Underneath it against the wall was an empty cot on wheels. It was the one in which the midwife had brought Bobby back in to me once she had cleaned, weighed and dressed him.
I looked back at my son and squeezed his hand gently. His soft nails pressed into the folds of my palm. I turned to look into Nick’s bloodshot eyes.
‘Can you ask the midwives if there are any nail clippers around?’
‘Why?’
‘I don’t want him to be buried with long nails,’ I said.
I started to cry.


© Suvi Mahonen 2012

Suvi Mahonen is a freelance writer living in Airlie Beach in Australia’s tropical Whitsundays. Recent publications include fiction in GringoLandiaSantiago (Chile) and MetroMoms (USA). More of her work can be found on her website at http://www.redbubble.com/people/suvimahonen

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sandra Davies

Best Laid Plans

Gaspar, maître d’ at Giuliano’s in Leith, was both a perfectionist and someone who liked to be in control which, since he dealt daily with the unreliability of the dining public at both lunch time and in the evening, was a handicap and a never-ending source of frustration.

As a long-time favourite, and more than just a customer, Ed Hetherington was less likely than most to be on the receiving end of Gaspar’s displeasure, despite the fact that Gaspar would more than ever want things to be perfect for him. It was Ed who had, a fortnight earlier, made the booking for this lunch, not needing to spell out what was required once he had stated its purpose. Then, the evening before, Ed again who had, with apologies, warned of an increase from the original four, maybe five, to nine. On the day itself no warning could be given of another additional couple, although in the end the numbers were correct and the reason for Gaspar’s considerable disappointment lay elsewhere. His concern too, initially, since it was unusual for any party of Ed’s to be as much as half an hour late. Following explanation, he was entirely mollified, although concern was transferred and a residue of disappointment remained since it was, in his experience, positively unheard of for the bride and groom to be unavoidably absent from their own wedding lunch.

In truth, the whole event had been somewhat precarious. Had been hastily arranged, last minute and ragged at times. Second and mercifully third thoughts frequently occurring, doubts not entirely banished either although both the proposal and acceptance had been genuine enough and the unprompted urgency with which necessary arrangements had been made entirely reassuring.

They had checked that the one essential witness – Ed of course – would be both free and willing, which he was (and would have been regardless of what he had to cancel) but there was some uncertainty as to who her witness might be, until she thought of Lydia, who was delighted. And that was all, except that Lydia’s husband Ian might also wish to be there. With forty-eight hours to spare they thought they ought to let their respective parents know what was going on. Being parents, loving as well as loved, they determined on being part of it, not matter how hasty their arrangements had to be. Hence the first increase in numbers.
And hence also for one set of parents a shock, because although it crossed their minds that there might be a further reason for the haste, they had not realised how far advanced things were until they saw the bride. The groom had deliberately said nothing at the time of their estrangement and then had been too superstitious, desirous of reducing risk. And he might have mentioned it a couple of days previously, except that it had slipped his mind. His brothers who, on hearing of the event and having met the bride just the once had also insisted on coming, just to see if the youngest member of the family really did know what he was doing, were instantly and unavoidably convinced that yes, he must do and laughed, not for the first time, at his ability to create drama.

They were even more convinced that the expectant bride was just right for him when she created further drama of her own, her waters breaking on the steps of the registry office as they paused for, fortuitously, just married photographs.

That a son had safely and speedily been born reached Giuliano’s minutes before the party broke up and Ed, relaying the news, promised Gaspar that he’d bring Madigan and Baz and baby along for a lunch at the earliest opportunity, while refusing to contemplate any such role as godfather.

© Sandra Davies 2012

Sandra Davies is a writer and printmaker, occasionally combining both disciplines as in ‘Edge: curve, arc, circle’ and ‘One that got away’ the precursor to four more novels. Her main writing blog is lines of communication from which links to printmaking blogs can be accessed.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Brian Michael Barbeito

Damascus or Bust

It was the time of day where the light had already faded significantly. The sun let out only a hint of pronunciation, and the clouds moved in and settled heavily across the shoreline. A group of birds fought for something and quarrelled loudly near quietly lapping waves. A couple miles out the rains had already met the body of water though there was nobody there to witness the encounter.
Jacob was walking along the shoreline and it would be a couple of more miles before he got to where he was headed. Behind him was the old house, now a museum of sorts though the daily guides, local teenagers and twenty-somethings, were often tardy. Originally the house was built by locals for an aristocratic family that immigrated to the shores from across the sea. They had bought acres and acres of the land, but now, several generations later, the land was owned by the federal government. Jacob liked to walk past the place, and imagined the isolation of winters past, or else the unabridged freedom of summers, a freedom so open that thinking on it seemed to ignite a sort of quiet but marked electricity in his bloodstream.
Now coming upon a brief wooded area with cedars and pines, he saw that the water had tumbled and smoothed small and large rocks at that part of the shore. The colors were more visible under the clear water. Yellows looking like Jasper, greens resembling aventurine, and even the odd piece of crystallized material waited there, all of them receiving the days and the nights in an endless and well put together cyclical reality dream film with the wind and waves as the soundtrack. All of them comfortable now with the idea of the fast encroaching night.
Out of the rocky and tree dense area, two men were huddled over. One was placing fish in front of the other on a small dock. The receiver cut a line from the head to the tail, along the belly, and soon a given fish was broken open to the air. Then, not quickly and not slowly, but quietly and confidently like an artist, the cutting man separated the skeletal structure from the flesh and plopped the fish back together. His partner picked up each one, placed it in a pre-made grave blanket of tin foil, and wrapped it before packing each in ice.
Behind, the boat launch area, now deserted, had a fierce dog roaming it. Jacob was too fatigued and also intoxicated from the fresh northern air to experience fear, or recoil from the canine as it approached. The dog stopped its pacing and looked at the walker, but there was no psychic animosity in Jacob, nothing to latch onto, and it disregarded him altogether, preferring to double back and then head inland.
Approaching a stretch of isolated sand Jacob looked out to the water. A pervasive and age old type of angst wanted to settle in to his being, but he forbade it. Not in the name of a monotheistic God. Not in the name of a pantheistic wobbly paradigm. And not in the name or worshiped habit of the strength of self. Rather, he simply forbade it. Plain and simple. And if it was out of anything, it was out of fatigue, out of boredom, out of a quiet disgust for this old false and melancholic friend who had proved through decades to be no friend at all.
Without joy, and without the angst, he had nothing, and so asked for help and guidance from spirit. Immediately he was inclined to look at the rubber band on his left wrist. It was a rubber band that he did not remember putting there. This was the way spirit worked for him—in strange images, via odd connections, through symbolism and imbued with nuance. He realized the band being on the left meant the heart, because he always equated everything on the left as such. Then in a millisecond, he realised the spirit was telling him that the path, though unrecognized and even scoffed at in secular terms, was indeed one of heart. He had no man or group to answer to and the only real inclination was to follow the contour of this the whole, the larger, the heart-felt.
Everything deepened then. It was as if Jacob was at the bottom of a benevolent sea and had found an opening or passageway to another, unknown sea that hid beneath the regular one. His thoughts surprised him. Christ came to mind, and the Lamb of God, being approached by the devil, was being told to give up, that the task was too great. Then Jesus continuing anyway, and before death, saying that it had been done. This strengthened Jacob, and though he had no pragmatic answer, and would not be attending a church anytime soon, felt nevertheless empowered by the Christ. True strength was not overt. True strength was humility. Humility and a procession in the face of every kind and manner of tiredness.
He was close to his destination now. He walked on a bit upon a makeshift gravel road of three quarter crushing. He was facing the water, and now all he had to do was turn from it and walk inward, following the road as it changed into a smaller path and led into the dense bush of the forest. He did. The night had almost fully arrived. It would no doubt blossom into wondrous being, a rich and thick world standing in the same place the day had but with a vastly different costume. Large drops of rain began to hit the earth, and soon all the forests and shoreline including the house of the aristocrats received the single storm like a baptismal vow in the immense and somehow bright darkness.

© Brian Michael Barbeito 2012

Brian Barbeito is a resident of Ontario, Canada. His short fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming at various venues such as Quail Bell, Metazen, Mudjob, character i, The Electric Poet, Thrice Fiction, and Apocrypha and Abstractions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Holly Day

This Man

I read through my son’s emails, wonder
at the beautiful things he’s written
to girls, wonder if his poetry
is as sincere and sweet and I believe him to be
or if he’s turning out to be some slick-tongued
manipulative creep. My little boy

once made me promise I would never die
because he didn’t want to be left alone
and I promised, because he was three
and I couldn’t stand to see him cry.

Now he hides his interest in girls
from me, writes beautiful letters that I would
have died to get from a boy when I was 12
this man he’s becoming is so strange to me.

Breathless Lullaby

sometimes it seems the closer we get to understanding each other,
something happens to collapse these thin card houses
of love even further than they were set up before. Fatal archer
you bend your body beneath me each night, you are
so completely without rhythm that the only
way either one of us can sleep is to leave. I

go into the spare bedroom, think of my mother
sit with my back to the wall and think of spouses
in my very own home, you’d think I’d be smarter
shouldn’t have to protect my heart from arrows far
flung, random strung. Your breath is the only lonely
lullaby for me, but sleep isn’t something I

signed up for in this marriage. I go lie beside
you when I know you’re asleep, hear you wake up hours
later: go away yourself. I don’t find comfort
or validation from this, I don’t get you, and
sometimes I think that’s how it’s just going to be. In
Heaven this will work, and all I know is, I’m not

patient enough to wait for Death’s blind eye to find
the bull’s-eye painted on my chest. All I want now
is for the strength to go away for good, for dirt
to fill the safe little hole I’m in, hourglass sand
to dull the echoes of this bell jar. Take my sins
wrap me in linen, spit on my grave, let me rot.

Peach

first bite of food after a 30-hour fast
a ripe peach, flesh firm, dripping sweet nectar
filling my throat. I know I ate more than that
peach, a sandwich, I think, but I don’t remember
whether it was salty pastrami on black rye
or sweet mustard and glazed ham
or just peanut butter and jelly on soft
store-bought white bread
all I can remember
is that peach.

Armageddon, Marilyn-Style

(the lights down, just a little more, collect your things
go. throw a red scarf over the bulb by the bed—
wheel in the post-holocaust gig city model
and let the rats start the maze.) I’m walking in your
dreams, Mr. President, on a white beach bare feet
leaving no footprints in the sand. This piece of ass

is the only real person here tonight. Wings
of angels beat on the glass of the hotel, dead
to anything but our blind sins. (pour a couple
more buckets of homicide on the beach, cover
up the swollen corpses, Joe Public’s bloody feet.
kill the rats). I almost called you up again last

night, knew the phone was right by your head, but I knew
that thing in your bed was down visiting for the weekend
and would pick up the phone, collecting your calls—I
hugged the plastic receiver between my wet thighs
and pretended I was collecting pieces of
you through these dreams, it was you, down on me, all night.

(the Armageddon simulation will redo
itself tomorrow. Let’s call it a day. The end
of any era means that something has to die.
In a place by the ocean, the fake red skyline
reads “The End.” Armageddon, the lights go off. Logoff.
Clear the set, the blackened beach. It’ll be all right.)

I Know She Loved Me

all the other kids had sandwiches
in their lunchboxes, olive loaf, pimento
bologna. I’d hide my lunch from my friends
bury it deep in the rumpled-brown paper bag
cover green sushi rolls with my palm, pink shrimp puffs
sweet rice balls wrapped in sea weed. Every day, I begged
my mother to make me peanut butter crackers
ham on white, something normal.

my stepfather would hear me from his office and laugh
“Your mother’s a wonderful cook! They should be
so lucky to have her for a cook!” speak at length
of his childhood, his own mother’s disgusting attempts
at making jellied baby squid, peppered mussels so hot
they made your pee burn.

my mother would just sigh, suggest
tampopo for lunch, told me I could tell
the other kids it was just
chicken noodle. “You don’t know that their lunches
are any better than yours,” she’d chide
heaping mounds of steamed pea pods, caramelized ginger
and salt-and-pepper shrimp on my plate.

© Author 2011

Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota who teaches needlepoint classes in the Minneapolis school district. Her poetry has recently appeared in Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Oxford American, and Slipstream. Her book publications include The Book Of, A Bright Patch of Sunlight, Music Composition for Dummies, Guitar-All-in-One for Dummies, and Music Theory for Dummies, which has recently been translated into French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese.

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