We’ve Always Been Dying to Dance
By Kate Axeford
It was too late for the grandkids when the dancing kicked off, but our party began long ago. 100 seconds to midnight, and it’s D-I-S-C-O. We lit up as jellyfish phosphoresced, octopuses threw shapes and the bass kaboomed. Chat-up lines were everywhere—molluscs whispered into shell-likes, and deep in the depths, where we’d rock-pooled as children, we tittered as a mussel got pulled.
Saturday night fever. The temperature rising. Tentacles, fins, floundering, failing. And frantic for oxygen amongst all our toxins, the silver-shoaled mirrorball’s spun gasping, hypoxic.
‘Spin faster,’ we squealed. ‘We’ve energy to burn. And you can’t stop us now.’
It wasn’t just chemicals; we had a glint in our eyes. Glittery, glistening, we spiraled, euphoric. We were fast, high—just where we wanted to be. We were having a whale of a time.
It was hot on the dance floor—a disco inferno, but we shimmied, oblivious, strutting our stuff to The Three Degrees, when they’d told us it’s two that will kill. Was it nearing the end? The algae were leaving. The coral reefs too, paled into nothing. We demanded cold drinks but the barmaid refused us, as the ice melted decades ago.
‘Big Fish, Little Fish.’
The levels were rising. Away from the disco, back to the old skool. This place was a dive, but we couldn’t care less—we were stayin’ alive, all getting wrecked. A terrified sea urchin begged us to stop—she implored, ‘Don’t leave us this way.’
We hoped she’d survive. We tried to reassure her—at first, we were afraid, we were petrified, but our generation has learned to adapt. We’ve all held our breaths, stuffed our heads in the sand—certain our boom-boom will always make waves, from the party we hope will never stop.
The Rocket Man
By Lorette C. Luzajic
after Ionel Talzapan
“I go into a different dimension, to forget my life.”
The distant drone of fury, the soothing drum of rain. The small boy makes himself smaller, curling into a culvert to conceal himself from Mother’s rage. The rhythmic thrumming against the pipe is hypnotic. His soaking slacks swim around his small bones, but Ionel is safe from the storm, for now. Eventually, he will have to go back. She will ignite again, burst into flames anew over the weeding shears he misplaced. His ribs are still smarting from the cracking crush of her ruddy pincers, and the bruising blows of last week’s undone chores still shine around his eyes. Even so, he is grateful. He does not take the strap too hard or too often. Once after a few tumblers of plum brandy with the neighbor, he saw her pick up a shovel and swing it fast. When the farmer fell to his face, she opened the earth with the bloody shovel, pushed the old geezer inside with one boot.
When he is a good boy, the woman he calls Mother shares scraps of cabbage and corn mamaliga from her plate, or chewy strips of tripe. Or potato sprinkled in paprika. He doesn’t remember his first mother. He remembers his brother. He sees him in the mirror. The boy who was born beside him. The boy who died an hour after their first breath.
Ionel falls asleep. Somewhere in his bad dreams, the sissing sound of the slowing rain gives way to a strange and radiant hum. He opens his eyes and listens to his heart beating. A comforting warmth comes over him. There is an odd airplane descending from the outer dark, a round and metallic cloud. The round blue glow it gives wraps around him. His body is infused with the light. He can feel his ribs knitting back together. He can hear in crisp clarity a choir of subtle sounds through the forest. He has a sudden understanding of electromagnetic fields in the atmosphere, of vortexes, the gravitational pulls of the planets. He instantly knows physics and engineering. Everything is a grid of intersecting lines, humming halos of light, vibrations and vacuums. He can name the swirls of gases and see the rhythmic buzzing of atoms all around.
He reaches out to them, his pale fingers threaded with vessels and nerves against the illuminated ship. Not now, he hears. Again, the flood of warmth and his clothes are dry against his skin. The blue dissolves into the black. Then he makes his way back to the house, to whatever is waiting for him.
Ionel’s hovel is infested, today with roaches, tomorrow with rats, but no matter. It is better than the cardboard box he once sheltered in. Home, sweet, home. His spaceships surround him, thousands of them, intricate cross-sectional blueprints in pencil, crayon, and marker, colour coded diagrams with labyrinthine detail. His notations in English and Romanian will come in handy one day for the NASA engineers, when they finally take him seriously. And they will—his illustrated legacy will speak for itself long after he is finished on this plane.
The artist sells his flying saucer sculptures and cosmic paintings downtown, or at parks, wrestling interested passersby for an extra fiver whenever he can. Sometimes his customers are curious, and he’ll speak vaguely on his beliefs in out-of-this-world intelligence. With the rare like-minded client, he may talk shop about the kinds of energy and engineering that can power a craft, or share his views on the six inhabited planets he knows of.
Most of the locals are friendly by now because they know him, but the tourists are the ones who want to talk. They ask about his accent, and knowing he is more likely to make a sale, he tells them the true and harrowing tale of his near drowning, swimming out of Romania. All was black, a great and endless void in the deep, and the currents of the Danube were fierce. He doesn’t tell them how he prayed all the way that his special friends would find him like they found him in the culvert. If he was expecting them to wait for him on the Serbian shore, he was sorely disappointed. Not now, he heard again, from an ancient place inside of him.
Police threw him into a prison dungeon in Belgrade, then, a refugee camp. He drew spaceships there, too, to wait out the long days waiting for their return, waiting, too, for America, whichever came first. And here he is, a political refugee, selling paintings of UFOs on the streets of New York. You can’t make this shit up.
When Ionel returns to his flat, he has a big box of Ray’s famous pizza, thin and gooey, and a few new fine-point markers. All in a day’s work—some grub, some supplies. He starts sketching, feels the peace he gets lost in start to sand over his seams as he draws. But tonight he feels something else, too. His heart is hammering, off and on. He has had a thin headache for days. The nausea is stronger than it’s been, and he is dizzy. The doctor warned him a month or two ago he didn’t have long. His heart was getting weaker and weaker.
Ionel puts his marker down. He finishes his slice of pizza, chewing slowly and savouring the flavours of his last supper. He feels very tired, so he lies down. He can hear the whole world, and a strange sensation like he is walking through it, all from inside his little room. He feels warm. There is a sensation of speed and velocity from within. He is not afraid. He feels well-oiled and fine-tuned. He feels connected. His twin is waiting for him, with the friends. It is finally his turn.
By Jackie Morris
A month after you die, the rabbits escape. Stella comes running from the garden ‘mummy, mummy, all three have gone,’ and all I can think is ‘screw you, Dan,’ because it was your idea to get them and now it’s one more mess for me to clear up. Stella holds onto my legs. Her chest heaves with sobs and I say, ‘maybe they’ve gone to make friends with the other rabbits,’ because that was the whole reason you insisted on her having them, her obsession with the bunnies in the field at the bottom of the garden. And even though it’s ridiculous—because how could they live in the wild, when there are foxes and kestrels and toxic diseases that pass through the air? —she lets go of me and spends the rest of the day fogging up her bedroom window, hoping for a flash of white that never comes.
You were always her favourite. I knew you would be the first time you held her, cradled vernix-pale in your large hands. I had been too greedy until then to share you, but I thought ‘yes, that’s right,’ and laid back in the bed. And now you’re gone, and I can’t look at her for long because she isn’t you and that makes me – what?
Tonight, like every other night since I told the doctor to turn off your ventilator, I tuck her in and as I close her door behind me, I hear: ‘Keep Daddy safe, keep the bunnies safe,’ and I go downstairs two at a time, so I don’t barge back in to tell her no-one’s listening. Heaven’s empty. The stars seem solid but they’re only hydrogen and helium and dust clouds. Nothing can survive up there. Nothing.
I take my evening wine outside. The farmer’s left the field fallow: red clover, loosestrife, vetch, wild Timothy. The North Star shines alone in a fading sky. You used to bring us down here to point out the constellations. Look, you’d say, Orion’s Belt—that’s us: three pearls on a string.
What are we now, Dan? Where are you, now?
In the dusk, a glint of white in the field. Another. Over there, do you see? In the shelter of the yew hedge. Three white rabbits, ears flat against their backs. Nibble scratch, nibble scratch. Their noses twitch at some invisible danger. They freeze. Danger passes. Nibble scratch, nibble scratch.
It’s dark. More stars come out. I inhale the smell of earth and green and some flower I can’t quite name; hold the air in my lungs until they ache. Exhale. Inhale. Go back inside, creep up the stairs, lie by her bed until morning.
By Carolyn R. Russell
My sister’s words came to mind, as they often did, when I needed them, and when they were the most unwelcome. Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married? I mulled over my options as I stuffed Kleenex into my handbag and left the ladies’ lounge.
That evening, Sam and I were celebrating a friend’s promotion at the hospital. Arlo was finally at the desk he’d always wanted, in a senior supervisory position; he and his wife Rennie were both psychologists and aimed to grow her private practice as he wound his down. Liza and Ben were there, too, an ambitious, fun couple only five years or so out of grad school. The six of us were maybe three drinks in, waiting for an overpriced meal at an over-hyped Boston restaurant. Sam had chosen it.
Liza had just picked up the proofs of a wedding she’d been in, her maid-of-honor duties apparently extending to such matters. The photos were being passed around to get our opinions on their worthiness of inclusion in the all-important Album. I nearly said how little it would matter in a shockingly short amount of time, as such mementos’ status subsided to baby journals, crayon drawings, and yearbooks. Instead, I ordered another drink and ignored Sam’s sharp glance in my direction.
One photograph in particular caught our collective attention. It was a tight, casual shot of four couples, including Liza and Ben. They were grouped closely together and beamed into the camera lens the purest kind of ferocity: lust and joy and vitality. You couldn’t help but smile back.
Rennie broke the spell. She wondered which of the couples would get divorced first, and who would leave whom.
Liza looked indignant, and I gathered these were friends she’d brought with her to her and Ben’s marriage, because Ben just laughed. He suggested we pool our bets; the winner and spouse would have dinner on everyone else. It was a weird proposal, and it didn’t take multiple winners into consideration, or how on earth we’d ever substantiate who’d won, but we all seemed to be in what Sam would call a mood. Which I always thought was an odd thing for a psychiatrist to say; one might expect something more arcane from someone like him.
Arlo ordered another round of drinks and suggested some ground rules. We must base our choices on photographical clues alone and provide a reason why we deduced the relationship was doomed. No other intel was allowed; that’d be cheating, he said, looking at Liza and Ben. He also graciously offered an exit ramp for me, the only non-shrink at the table. Rennie threw me a sympathetic look. I bared my teeth at him and said that I was all in, despite my feeble civilian status.
Sam guffawed. His take on my chosen profession was no secret. According to him, my career writing book reviews consisted of sitting in one place much too long for a normal person and making stuff up. I could have said the same of his line of work.
Our appetizers arrived with the beverages and the photo was circulated again, along with the pencils and paper we had begged from our beleaguered server. I rolled my eyes at the poor guy as he withdrew; in return, he saluted and did a vaudevillian kind of fake stumble.
Forty-five minutes and six entrees later, we made our bets.
Arlo went first. He pointed at the most dapper of the husbands and pointed out the guy’s luxury branded wardrobe and jewelry. Arlo’s theory was that he would eventually trade up, matrimonially. Our eyes went to the guy’s wife, whose steely blues gazed confidently into the camera while gripping her husband’s forearm; her knuckles were paled with the effort. I didn’t think he was going anywhere.
Liza speculated that a petite woman with dark hair might be untrustworthy and drew our attention to the fact that while everybody else looked directly at the photographer, she seemed to be focused beyond him, grinning at someone in the wedding crowd facing them all. Rennie cried foul, saying Liza was operating with privileged information, as only she and Ben would know the physical set up.
And so we continued, through coffee.
I felt fairly confident when it was my turn. I chose one of the husbands in a dark suit with curly hair and stylishly old-fashioned glasses; I told our party that I thought he was already cheating on the wife at his side. If you look closely, I explained, the woman’s lipstick was terribly smeared above her mouth. Her husband either didn’t care enough to tell her or hadn’t noticed it before they all posed for the professional photographer.
Nobody said anything for a minute. I couldn’t help but feel a bit smug as I excused myself to go to the powder room. Where I discovered the swatch of toothpaste on my chin. It had hardened into a greenish blur during the four hours since I’d brushed my teeth at home with Sam. I chipped it off and headed back to the dining room.
The table was laughing at a story of Arlo’s as I sat back down and joined the conversation. The contest was never mentioned again, not that evening, and not ever at any of our subsequent gatherings. Sam gets home earlier from work these days, and I try to get out from behind my computer more often. And Rennie and I broke off our affair. Life is less complicated now, in a good way, I think.
A Good Boy
By Michael Pikna
In the spring of 1973, on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, the police searched the basement of my parents’ house for pot. Picture a quiet rural township in northern New Jersey, a blue-collar haven on its way to becoming a bedroom community for New York City. At sixteen I was like many of the kids in my high school at the time, steeped in a culture of altered consciousness. We were the younger brothers and sisters of the sixties—beneficiaries of protest-and-revolution cachet without the induction of getting popped in the mouth for our tie-dye jeans and hippie hair.
Later that day, my father and I met with the chief of police, who began his inquest, or whatever it was, with a display—in an actual display case—of all the marijuana paraphernalia and weapons (apparently, I was part of a deranged and violent cabal a la Reefer Madness) he’d confiscated over the years. Then he sat behind his tidy metal desk in his padded, spring-loaded chair, my father opposite him in a less comfortable wooden one. They were of the same generation, with their tired eyes that had seen it all and their big bellies leading the way into middle age. I stood quietly next to my father while they chatted—politics, the roads, the problems with our football team, anything but what was found in the basement. My father’s tendency to disagree with the chief at every opportunity was not helping. I jammed my hands in my pockets and sulked, head down, my long hair curtaining my head (if there’d been time, my father would’ve dragged me to our barber and had it all cut off).
Noticing this, my father turned to me and said, “Go over there and make a handstand for the chief.” He nodded toward a spot by the window overlooking the road. “Go ahead, make a good one.”
I’m sure my father wanted to highlight my athleticism, but I was also sure the chief wouldn’t be so easily blinkered. A month ago, he had busted a huge party, at which half the kids on the track team had been present, including my older brother. What would my father have told him to do for the chief had he not bolted out a window that night and made his way home through the woods? Run a hundred laps around the police station?
In any case, you don’t say no to my father, so I upended myself like an hourglass, my back curved, legs together and toes pointed, the way my mother, a veteran of the highwire in Europe, had taught me. If highwire walkers and tumblers were artists, as she claimed, then in my mind I was the Michelangelo of handstands—I could make them transcendent.
My memory of what was said after that is patchy. I heard my father’s Czech accent, as thick as goulash, competing with the chief’s clipped tone of authority. I worried in the self-absorbed way of teenagers, fuming at the unfairness of my predicament. After all, some of the weed belonged to my older brother, who’d left the day before for a weekend of waiting tables in the Poconos. But no way was I going to narc on him.
My head felt like it was filling with sand, but I held that handstand because for all I knew it was all my father had. After a brief lull, during which cigarettes were lit, the chief asked my father what he did during the war. If I had become a sideshow, my father was now having to do his own little dance. So, he told the chief about his time as a partisan fighter in the Banska Bystrica Uprising, his time spent at the Mauthausen work camps. Something he didn’t like to talk about.
At one point my father turned to me and said, “He’s a good boy,” and I knew then that I wasn’t. I’d never wondered about it before, my goodness following ipso facto from my very existence, never considered how my actions affected my parents and their American dream. I came down from the handstand and stood next to my father again. The chief made eye contact with me for the first time, his steely eyes conveying what I thought was a glimmer of respect but very well could have been pity. He gave me a stern warning and a promise that if I didn’t straighten up, all the evidence collected the day before would be used against me.
I left the police station that day, relieved yet resentful, a brooding and silent father by my side as we walked toward his car in the gravel lot. The whole thing—the search, the weed, being called in to the station to answer for me—had shamed him. His right to be an American had been called into question. His eyes were wet with fought-back tears. Remembering it now from a distance of almost fifty years, I want desperately to rescue myself from my boorish immaturity and my father from the ill effects of the crow he’d eaten in front of the chief, so I revise the scene and have my father put his arm around my shoulders. I take the tears from his eyes and conjure them up in mine. I put comforting words in his mouth and reassuring words of contrition in mine.
Of course, this rescripting of events is akin to wishful thinking, something I’ve always thought of as a legacy of the seventies, this fanciful adjusting of circumstances without the need to confront them. How much easier it is to be a revisionist, to sweep the corners of our mind and believe we have accomplished something.
On the other hand, maybe we have. Perhaps wishful thinking is simply empathy’s younger brother, wearing its clothes, trying to catch up. If I can cry my father’s tears, there is hope for this old man yet.
The Secret of the Old Clock
By Roberta Beary
— Such a weird thing happened today, Carol. Big John, that guy from Vassar, sent me a friend request.
— John you didn’t invite to our wedding who gave us that lovely gift? They both shoot a look at the antique carriage clock above the fireplace.
— Same. My mom always thought we’d wind up together.
— His gift is looking a bit dusty. Did you get to the cleaning? Or were you curled up with Nancy Drew again?
— I got most of it done. I never should have told you about Nancy Drew … thought I could trust you with my darkest secret. Ha ha. C’mon, Carol, should I say yes to Big John?
— Your choice, Susan, not mine. It’s not like you were best buddies, right? Still, it was nice of him to send something so expensive.
Carol rolls her neck, adjusts her reading glasses, and opens her medical journal.
Susan returns from the kitchen with a thick paper towel and eco-friendly glass cleaner. She remembers Big John showing up at her dorm, smelling of dope, asking to borrow her Faulkner notes. He steered her to the bed and unbuckled his belt. She said she didn’t want to. A tight smile glued to her face. She said please stop. Please. Then closed her eyes and waited for it to be over. Knew it was when she felt his stickiness shoot across her stomach.
The next day Big John acted like nothing happened. So did she. The next month she dropped out of Vassar.
Susan aims the nozzle at the expensive timepiece on the mantel. She pumps the handle, letting off multiple firings of eco-friendly rounds. When she’s done, the thick paper towel is in shreds. Susan glares at the antique clock face. But all it tells her is the time.
A Flight of Curlews Swooping Down on Lavender
By Anthony Kane Evans
I noticed him at the bus-stop. Black shoes, brown socks, he bent down and scratched his ankle. One of his shoelaces was undone, the left, but though he scratched at that very shoe’s ankle, he didn’t tie the lace. I thought about that all the way home. Was it a new fad? You know, like people wearing odd socks and even odd shoes these days.
I consulted all the fashion magazines I subscribe to, but could find no mention of it, not even in Wallpaper (where I’d expect to find exactly such a cutting-edge development). Of course, since my last poetry collection (The Ironic Hoots of a Phantom) was a surprise flop, I’ve been a little short of folding money and have had to cancel some of the more countercultural fashion magazines.
Nothing for it but to bite the bullet and call the friends. They didn’t say much, though you could hear them scratching their heads and turning pages over the disembodied line. The consensus seemed to be that it was just some loser at the bus-stop and that I should pay him no heed.
They all trooped up to my place at three o’clock that very afternoon; we were all going into town to catch the Kenneth Anger retrospective at the Jiminy Cricket Arts Centre. I noticed they all had their left shoelaces undone.
“Just in case,” they said.
I grabbed my leather jacket from the nail in the hallway. They blocked the door to my apartment. Frank pointed down at my shoes. I dutifully bent down and undid my left shoelace.
By Mary B. Sellers
In 9th grade, you start having your first bout of quality-of-life-impairing intrusive thoughts. Bathrooms ignite them. It feels like firecrackers being set off in your head.
You start avoiding yourself in bathroom mirrors, especially your own one upstairs. Your mirror is smarmy with patterned layers of fingerprints—abrasive, complex, slightly filthy. And you can’t wipe them away because your father will get into a car accident on his way home one night if you do. Looking at them makes you feel guilty. You aren’t sure what you’ll find in your eyes if you actually look, but that doesn’t mean something doesn’t dwell there, you tell yourself. Self-mollified. Self-mollification. It definitely dwells there. You haven’t looked too closely precisely for this reason.
This is also around the time you get colored contacts: an alien cerulean color. They’d looked better on the bland pretty white catalog model who’d worn them on her own deerish wide eyes on the website. On you, they make your irises look geometric. Insect eyes. Last year in science class, you’d learned about bugs with eyes that were actually clusters of thousands of microscopic light detectors, bunched tight together, resembling one giant cyclopsian eye. Circles within pixelated circles, like some kind of vaporwave dendrochronology.
Leaning over the bathroom counter for a closer look, you can count the overlapping tree rings of this false new blue.
One day, soon after you start wearing them, your father says something looks different about you. You tell him that you started doing your makeup differently. But he kept looking at you anyways—a rareish instance during this time. He is busy and married to his place of work.
His sudden attention, unwanted yet badly wanted, makes you wonder if he could smell the lie on your breath.
By this time, that summer, your mother is home again. She is changed: someone who has the outline of your mother, her eyes and ankles and the slight pudge belly she’d said you’d given her back when you came into the world. She was 27 and beautiful and she knew it. Her hair is now box-dyed hair, an alarming change from the expensively curated blonde highlights she’s had for her 8 career years. Now it’s an uneven matte black, looks unwashed, full of oil luster. Some of her scalp shows through—a startled, unhealthy white.
You ask her when she did it, dyed it, and she says, One night in that place. By that place, she means the mental institution.
Two months earlier, during one of your mother’s spring weekend ‘visits’ home, you’d found her in the backyard partially hidden by your father’s meticulously manicured shrubs. She’d been hunching over to light a cigarette.
What do you think you’re doing, you scream. Your mother looks up—pale and guilty and moon faced—registering both of y’all’s mutual shocks. Medically drowsy, she’s sluggish in her deliberation. Finally, she says, They do this there. They said it’d make things feel better. I choose to be only the hurt child in this moment, summoning scorn. I say, You’re not allowed to do that! Then you scream that sentence again. Then: a sharp turn and only bright noon sunshine, barefoot in the grass, running back inside. You slam the back door and lock it, greedy with a meanness that feels both new and familiar to you. New to use, familiar to find in this home space.
You ignore the first 20 minutes of your mother’s knocking. Eventually, when she’s stopped knocking, you tepidly unlatch the back door deadbolt, hoping she won’t hear. But she does. Then she’s inside. Her eyes almost glow.
I’m sorry, your mother says. Leave me the hell alone, you spit in your nastiest and brattiest, relishing how it feels to roll a cuss word around in your mouth like grapes, directing it at someone who has forbidden you to say them. You feel adult and misidentify this feeling as having any power at all. But your mother doesn’t react, which deflates any pleasure, and instead she just slips by you, hunching in on herself, a polymer clay version of a person. In the kitchen, she turns the faucet tap on, then the disposal, and watches as it eats up the long pale cigarette. Watching your mother do this makes you electric with anger because it feels so good to be lit up with the pulse of the thing you both share.
By Gary Fincke
A lot of seventh graders shoplifted. Sometimes I stood an aisle’s length away and watched them slip stuff inside their jackets, but I never touched one item, not even the records I coveted. I couldn’t get enough of them, but there was always somebody at school who wanted to show off, adding one of my favorites to the three or four they pilfered from the strip mall’s discount store. Eddie Hoak even stole an album for me. “See,” Hoak said, handing me the album as we walked down the sidewalk in front of the shopping center. “It’s easy.” On the cover, the guys in Devo were wearing yellow jump suits that made them look as if they worked at a nuclear power plant where they might be poisoned by radiation. Hoak was wearing a top coat like the one I wore to church over a hand-me-down suit. There weren’t any other twelve-year-olds wearing top coats at the shopping center on a sunny Saturday afternoon in 1978.
A week later Steve Yates stole a cap gun for me. There was a time that spring when every boy in our junior high school wanted to make a zip gun, adding a barrel and a firing pin, attaching rubber bands to give more power to the hammer so it might be lethal. Or at least threatening. It was cool to talk about making a zip gun like that. As if I had even the remotest idea how to manage it.
Steve Yates came back from the K-Mart a block from our school with two cap guns while I was waiting for the late bus to take me home from band practice. They were smaller than the one my mother had thrown away when I was ten because, she said, “You’re too old for this.” I could palm one and then flash it like I was a real tough punk in Akron. I was wearing a hat tugged down over my forehead. It was black and had a little feather through the band, and I’d paid for it at the mall a month before. I punched Steve Yates on the shoulder and said, “Cool,” and I carried that gun around in my jacket for a week or so before I sold it to a sixth-grader for two dollars.
But for all that time when I wouldn’t take anything from a store, I was stealing money from home. Quarters, dimes, nickels—nothing big, nothing I’d get caught for because how would my mother know whether forty-five cents was missing from her purse when it held more than four dollars-worth of change? I figured I could take 10% of the coins. It seemed like a safe number, something like church, what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to protect yourself. My father just threw his in an old ashtray and never once missed how he was tithing to me every week.
I have a son that age now. Twelve. Just beginning seventh grade. I leave money lying around as if I am confident he will never touch it. Anyone would think I was as careless or trusting as my parents, but I keep track of how many dollars are lying loose on my dresser, how many quarters are by the phone in the kitchen. So far, Shawn has never taken one, but I think maybe it’s because he’s lived with his mother for the past two years and only stays with me every other weekend.
Or he recognizes my sting operation. Or because he wouldn’t risk himself for chump change. Or because he doesn’t have any friends in this town twenty miles from his school, nobody to have in the house on weekends who could be blamed for stealing change or even something larger. Something more valuable, convincing a boy who wants to be his friend to rob my house, drawing him a map to what can easily be sold, all my old 45’s or my two manufactured guns or even my boxes of albums, things I keep but never use, things I wouldn’t miss for weeks or months or ever but once upon a time was sure I had to have.
By Salvatore Difalco
A shower of confetti in the bay window, a slow accordion waltz, a whispered sonnet d’amore—no, it’s not the season for weddings or waltzes or tender epithalamiums. We’ve been married a long time. A childless routine that now rings hollow. We don’t dance anymore. We don’t sleep in the same bed. We don’t even eat together. The one thing we share is our fondness for French CBC radio and our reason for this is the almost amusing abundance of songs on the station that feature accordions and whistling. The French seem to understand something about the accordion, and whistling. Perhaps it’s connected to existentialism or deconstructionism, or red wine. You can’t whistle. I once tried to teach you the technique, to whistle with and without fingers. For a tune, no fingers. To catcall someone, fingers sharpen the shrillness. After much practice, you still failed to whistle either way.
“I wish you wouldn’t mock me about it,” you’d said.
“I didn’t mean to mock you,” I explained. “It’s just a little odd, that’s all.”
“You’re odd, even trying to teach me how to whistle.”
“Who doesn’t know how to whistle?”
“Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up.”
That numbered among many discordant exchanges we shared during the second half of our marriage. I could not reach you or you refused to be reached, retreating into secrecy and silence. By year ten, we’d grown deaf to each other and our eyes sought fresh horizons, our tongues new flavors. Yet our bodies stayed in place, in the little stucco house with the dog, smiling like mannequins, and remain here, years later, stiffening further by the second. Ostensibly together—the family, our friends, and neighbors trust their eyes—we’re actually so far apart return to base grows ever remote, though we stay tethered to it, floating in our separate airs like spacewalkers, for better or worse.
The party later that day went wrong, despite a jazzy and ebullient beginning. Guests for a change! But Chardonnay is not your friend, I maintain, and the sloppiness that followed the first bottle only took a backseat to the ugliness that followed the second one. “You’d better see about Alex,” someone behind a highball glass said. “She’s stumbling around something fierce.” I found you in the living room, loose-limbed, drooling. Guests watched with ticklish horror as you knocked over the drum-shaded floor lamp and spun around the room with your hands covering your ears. Eluding me with hip shakes and cackles, you broke a heel and fell hard upon the turquoise Berdondini coffee table that had once belonged to your mother, back in her Piccadilly Circus days, before she met your father and moved to this country. It had been a wedding gift. Your mother forgave you for destroying it. I must admit I never did.
“What are you doing?” you ask in the present frame. You’re wearing your tired blue terrycloth bathrobe, an unofficial uniform of late.
“Nothing much,” I say. “Watching the blizzard. Where’s the dog?”
“Sleeping. I think he’s feeling better. His pee was clearer. Man, it’s really falling.”
“Pretty, don’t you think?”
An accordeon musette by André Verchuren comes on the CBC. It doesn’t suit the mood.
“Look,” you say, “I’m sorry about earlier.”
I turn to you. An apology? For what? I’m afraid to ask.
“Sorry I said you were useless,” you say, not meeting my eyes. “I didn’t mean it.”
Funny, I had no recollection of that specific slur. But this idea of my uselessness had long been established and reinforced by repeated failure. Not through lack of effort. Not all of us were meant to succeed. I fight against that fact each day and each day I am thwarted by it. The poker player may believe he’s more skillful than his opponents, but when the fickle cards refuse to flatter his genius, what can be done? Yet, however framed, he’s still a loser.
The blowing snow compiles a white and wordless statement of itself: I am here, silly people of the north, deal with it.
Mareva Galanter is singing C’est Bon on CBC.
“Maybe we should talk,” you say, rubbing your hands on your flanks.
“You want to talk?”
A gust shakes the window.
This is interesting. I’m on the verge of tears for some reason. Is it the landscape, rendered immaculate? Or being inside where my daydreams seek shelter but can’t find it?
You say nothing, cross your arms on your chest and stalk off into the house.
Leaving is always an option, always on the table for the downhearted. But is it the only one? We were married at the Victoria Terrace in Niagara Falls on a perfect September afternoon, four days after the 9/11 attacks. It was strange—our guests subdued, reflective. We could see the Rainbow Bridge from our reception hall, lit with stranded vehicles. Earlier our guests had thrown confetti on us as we exited the chapel—our vows exchanged in whispers—but halfheartedly as I recall. Everything about it had been halfhearted, hushed, and heavy. Understandable.
Of course, it’s not confetti now—blown sideways in the wind, audibly pelting the big window and blanketing the world, leaving it seamless and pristine. Tate will want out before dusk turns the snow pink and rose and steel blue. I’ll take him, no need for you to break from your secrecy, your suffering, internal, away, so far away from us.