Monday, February 4, 2013

Fiction #41

New fiction! Issue #41
 Submissions now open for #42.

Special thanks to all who have been submitting. Enjoy.

Fiction #41: Leila Marshy

Ed the Hero


Sometimes Ed understood fame. Let others have the paparazzi and fur coats and fancy cars, or even drugs and whoredom and death – like that sharmouta Marilyn Monroe – I have something none of these clowns have. I have the respect of my wife and kids and everywhere I go the neighbours salute me and the cashier girls imagine I was their lover. Everywhere I go people turn to watch me cut through the air like a knife – like a sword! – and they wonder, who is that man, who is that hero.

Ed drove a cream coloured Mercury Monarch – the carriage of kings! – and when it pulled into his driveway every day at 5:30 the curtains in the living room window shook. Ah, he’d smile, they are waiting for me.

But Marvin was in his driveway with that stupid little dog. “Hello Ed,” Marvin stuttered.

“Marvin.” Ed didn’t understand that name, so undignified. It called out for a flexing of muscle.

“How’s your love life,” Ed winked. Marvin must know that his wife was the unsightliest woman on the block, with her shortened leg and thick neck and one side of her mouth frozen on the letter B. Ed moved his head back and forth in a little conspiratorial dance. Marvin looked away. One day he’s going to kill that Ed, he vowed again.

“Let me know if you need any pointers,” Ed laughed. Then he affected a stage whisper, “or girlfriends.” But by then he was opening his front door and didn’t see Marvin give him the finger.

The two youngest were playing in the living room, blocks and puzzle pieces spread out over the thin carpet. The two older ones were at the table, books open. “Hi daddy,” they said, soft reed-like voices hanging in the air like flat notes. His wife, where was she? “Where’s mommy?” he asked. No one answered. “Where’s mommy,” he asked again. The kids looked at each other. He raised his voice and slapped the table hard. The kids jumped. The youngest one’s face rippled like a pond, and he started to cry. “Where’s your mother,” Ed boomed like a broken log jam, trees exploding out of their chains and crashing into the river bank. The eyes of his children, wide, innocent, in awe of his power, like deer about to be shot. It made his heart bloat with pride.

“I’m here.”

She held a basket full of laundry that needed folding. Her hair fell around her face and she was wearing those slacks, the ones that pulled up way too high and made her look fat. “You been eating all day,” he asked, smiling so wide she could see all his teeth. She looked away and managed a smile. The eyes of her children on her every move. She sat down on the couch and pulled out the clothes one by one, folded them, lay them in neat piles. He went in the bedroom to change. A drawer slammed loudly in the otherwise now silent house.

When he came out he strutted down the hallway and sang a familiar song. “Who’s the biggest man today, who’s the biggest man today? Who’s the biggest man today, who’s the biggest man today?”

He flexed his arms and caressed his biceps. Lucky kids! to have such a strong and impressive father. “Feel this,” he said. “Feel this!” They didn’t want to touch his arm, they kept their eyes on the blocks and on their books. “Come on!,” he yelled at them. He danced around the table, round and round. “Who’s the biggest man today, who’s the biggest man today! Who’s the biggest man today, who’s the biggest man today.” His wife stood up and he grabbed her rear end. She made sure to be seated next time he went around the living room.

Finally the youngest one succumbed. He reached up and grabbed his father’s arm and swung off it like a monkey. Ed hoisted his little boy up as high as he could. “Ah ha!” he said. “Ah ha!” He grabbed the child’s waist and held him aloft. “Now you can climb the ceiling!” And the little boy crawled like an upside down monkey. He giggled and laughed. “Look at me!” he said to his sisters.

“Now let me fly,” the boy said. “Now I want to be an eagle.”

“Fly! Fly!” said Ed, and he turned the boy around and whooshed him through the air. He held him like a rocket and zoomed him around the girls and his mother, almost crashing into them each time. “Ed, you’re being a little rough,” his wife said quietly, removing the boy’s hands from her hair. “Shut up,” Ed smiled.

“Fly some more,” the boy said. “Let go and let me fly. Like a bird! Like a rocket!” Ed stopped whooshing the boy and looked at him, his eyes squinting darkly. “Are you sure? Are you sure you want me to let go of you?” The boy threw back his head and giggled. “I want to fly like a bird! Tweet tweet!”

“Ed…” his wife stopped folding laundry. The oldest girl pushed back her chair and stood up. “Daddy,” she said, her voice tremulous, her body bracing for a smack, only the slight quivering in her chin betraying the bravery.

“What?” he turned around angrily. “What? We’re playing. I’m playing with my son.”

“Daddy! Daddy! I want to fly” The boy stretched out his tiny thin limbs and clouds parted for him, the sky was open and vast and warm. His father rocked and pumped him back and forth. “Are you ready bird? One!” Back and forth again. “Are you ready rocket? Two!”

“Ed, don’t you dare!”

“Three!” The boy closed his eyes and stretched his arms out as far as he could. He was an eagle high in the sky, circling over the forest, the most majestic of birds. In the second that his body soared through the air he heard the cawcaw calling of his mother eagle. Then his face crashed into the wall.

“No!” The boy’s mother screamed. She was over him in a second and folded his wrinkled body into her arms. A streak of blood had followed him down the wall. It took him one second to fill his lungs again and when he did he arched his back against his mother and wailed. He kicked and grabbed at her, willing that his broken eagle spirit might transfer into her soft body, that she in turn might kick and grab and kill for him. Might kill the man. But she only held the boy and cried also, each of them cowering in the hunter’s shadow. Blood poured out of the boy’s mouth from where his tooth had been. He cried and coughed, cried and choked, cried.

“Stupid boy,” Ed said, pacing, “stupid boy.” He poked at him with his foot. “Come on, I just did what you asked, you wanted to fly.”

He turned around to see his three girls staring at him, the smallest one crying, the two oldest unable to conceal the anger in their eyes. “What?” he shouted. “What!” He leaned over his wife and son. “Shut up you two! And stop crying like a little girl. Who cares about that tooth, it was going to come out anyways.”

He pulled the boy up to his feet, but the fury in the child was still alive and he flailed at his father, all windmilling arms and legs, growled like a dog, screeched like an eagle. Ed just laughed. “Go then, go to your mother,” he said, tossing him onto his mother’s lap. “You take care of your little girl,” he said with disgust, and walked away. The boy had nothing left now and buried his face in his mother’s breast and cried.

Ed went downstairs to the basement. He had done it up with wood paneling the year before so it looked like the kind of rec room he’d seen on television. He picked up a Time magazine from the stack on the table.

“Peasants,” he muttered to himself. “Peasants.” He read the magazine and slowly started to feel better. He was smart. He could read such smart things as Time magazine. The magazine for intellectuals like him. World events at his fingertips! Who else from the old country was sitting in a suburban rec room reading Time magazine? Eh? Who else? By the time he got to the last page he could smell supper cooking. Perfect timing, he thought to himself, and went upstairs famished and ready to eat.

*

Leila Marshy is editor of Rover, a Montreal online arts and culture journal. She has published here, there, but not everywhere. When not writing she is raising chickens, selling her bread, and holding world leaders hostage. Because somebody has to.

Fiction #41: Jéanpaul Ferro

I Walk On Gilded Splinters

AS SHE WENT WALKING under the canopy of the giant Douglas-fir trees, these diamond droplets of leftover rainwater still swaying gently from their branches, Lisa noticed how the fallen pine needles at her feet were still soaked from the storm while the grassy ground only a few feet out ahead of her was delicate and bright like a soaring meadow up in the sunlit Austrian alps.

Off to her left sat a green cow pasture.  During the winter months this same cow pasture was full of disheveled and windswept snow drifts.  Now the muddied up field was full of two dozen or so smelly old dairy cows.  The cows all belonged to old-man Partridge, a wild-eyed, long-haired old man who once gave his milk out for free to those in need.  Lisa and her two younger siblings, Kyle and Lola, thought he was a weirdo now, because he spent most of his time ranting and raving to his neighbors over supercilious matters of little or no consequence.  His diary farm, once pristine, now looked like a rusted, old junkyard.  It was embarrassing.

Lisa hesitated as she walked past one of old man Partridge’s rusted out Packard’s. When she got to the edge of his property, about a hundred yards out beyond the fir trees, a strange feeling squeezed firmly around her heart.  It stopped her cold in her tracks. 

Her hand went up over the left side of her chest. 

It was a severe anxiety attack.  She had never felt this kind of anxiety before.  All she could think was that today was the day the bank was going to auction off her house.

Her father, Sherwood Van Essen, had once been a successful real estate broker in North Conway.  Her mother, Pamela, worked at the Eastman Inn, cooking and doing the books.  But the boom years in North Conway came to a stretching halt when the 2008 Wall Street economic meltdown came out of nowhere.  A credit crunch soon ensued.  Banks stopped lending.  Houses stopped being sold.  The economy shed jobs at a frantic pace.  Her dad’s real estate business went from boom to bust.  This coincided with all the tourists staying home.  That’s when Lisa’s mom got laid off from the Eastman Inn.  The subsequent unemployment checks were a help, but now those had run out too.

Lisa stood there on the edge of old man Partridge’s land, her dark green eyes staring intently up at the snow-dusted shoulders of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range off in the distance.  She closed her eyes tight.  She started to pray to God for the first time in a long time.

When she opened her eyes and looked up at the Presidential Range, she imagined it was where God lived now, because it looked so majestic and ethereal, like somewhere he might go to get away from all those prayers he must have been hearing.

She took a quick breath; just breathe, she thought like she did when she was trying to ace a test.  Quickly, she ran out of old man Partridge’s property; and then she ran full tilt along the Conway Scenic Railroad.  She was sixteen now.  An honor student.  A pretty blonde like her mother.  A member of the track team.  On her iPod she had a playlist that included Weezer, Katy Perry, and Kanye West.  She had been reading Jonathan Franzen, but she liked this other writer, Jennifer S. Davis, that she had been reading on the Internet.

The late morning sun blistered against her skin now.   As Lisa ran she could feel the sweat snake up and down her spine and into the small of her back. 

Her pace quickened as she saw these ghost eyes stare at her from the windows of old Zeb’s General Store.  She thought everyone in town must have seen the notice about her house being auctioned off by the bank. 

Pushing these thoughts away, she ran across the White Mountain Highway, turned north toward her house, and then after a minute ran up Grove Street, where her parent’s yellow Victorian sat across an open meadow.

When she ran up to the house she just stood there in her driveway, her heart racing, her body saturated in sweat now, her hands falling to her knees as she looked over at this cadre of strangers milling about her front yard. 

… There was the man from the bank who always smelled like pee.  Over there was the town tax assessor.  Over there stood Delmont Jenkins from the Conway Daily Sun, and to his left a small crowd had gathered. 

She knew these people were all there to buy the house she had grown up in.  Everyone one of them was there to look at her house—at the warm glow coming from the windows, at the red front door Lisa’s mom had once recycled from the front door of the old post office, and at the trellis out front full of purple clematis that had once belonged to Lisa’s grandmother down in New Jersey.

When she noticed Kyle and Lola, 9 and 7 respectively, come running out of the house, Lisa closed her eyes and prayed to God one last time.

Opening her eyes she saw that everyone was still there.  And right then she knew that God had nothing to do with what was about to happen to her family.

Her father, Sherwood, and her mom, Pamela, calmly walked out of the front door.  Sherwood took with him an old set of golf clubs that had once belong to his dad.  Pamela carried out both of their Maltese dogs, Pepper and Cinnamon.

Sherwood quickly shuttled the children over to their maroon mini-van that he had strategically parked down the street. 

“Come on,” he told the kids.  He nodded to his wife.  “I have twenty dollars burning a hole in my pocket.  Why don’t we all go down to Brandli’s and get a pepperoni and black olive pizza?”

Kyle and Lola yelled with great enthusiasm: “Oh, yeah, baby!”  And then Kyle, never known for his lack of enthusiasm, blurted out: “And German chocolate cake afterwards, right?”

Lisa watched as her mother and father both gave each other this look.  Before this none of the children had ever known the feeling of want.

When Sherwood nodded his head no, this simultaneous “awe” came from the backseat of the mini-van.

Seeing this, Lisa quickly reached down into the drenched front pocket of her white jeans.  She smiled when she saw this flash of green. 

A second later they were all staring out the right-hand side window of the mini-van.

They watched as their neighbors, friends, and fellow New Hampshirites raised their hands as they all started to bid on the Van Essen house at 17 Grove Street, North Conway, NH, 03860; auction 1371.

Lola waved toward the house.  “Goodbye house,” she said very innocent.

When Lisa looked up at her old bedroom window she had to look away.  She stared up at the top of Mount Washington off in the distance.

A little while later they all sat inside Brandli’s pizzeria.  Lisa ate her two slices with a Coke that she shared with her brother and sister.  When she saw Lola eyeing some French fries left on a nearby abandoned tray, Lisa wanted to grab them and give them to her, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

“We’re not going to eat other people’s leftovers,” Lisa scolded her, but inside she felt that they could.

“But Lee-lee.  I’m still hungry,” Lola insisted.

Lisa nodded like she understood, but she pushed the red tray of French fries further out of the reach of her younger sister across the table that was right next to them.

After lunch Lisa played with her siblings on the grass out in front of the old train station. She noticed her parents standing not far away.  It was the way her mom had her arm around her dad.  Her mom kept caressing him like she was trying to comfort his soul.  For some reason this really touched Lisa. 

As she watched her parents walk around the fertile gardens of the station, full of these blood-red tulips, she grabbed the reluctant hands of her brother and sister.  She gave them a hushed, “shhhh, be quiet,” and then guided them down the street.

“Where are we going?” Kyle demanded to know.

Lisa didn’t reply. 

She sat both Kyle and Lola down on a dark green bench and looked them square in the eye.

“Listen,” she said.  “We’re not going back home anymore.”   

“Not ever?” Lola asked.

 “Not ever.”

“But why?” Kyle demanded. 

“Because we’re homeless now,” she said.  “But listen.  From now on our life is like going through a secret door in one of your stories I always read to you.”

“Like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?” Kyle asked.

“Yes.  Just like that,” Lisa said.

“I love Aslan,” Lola said, smiling.

“Well,” Lisa continued.  “Now our life is just like that.  We’re going to have to go through doors we never expected to go through.  Doors where we don’t know what’s on the other side.” 

She watched their childlike eyes for their reactions.

“And then we get to go home?” Lola asked much to the chagrin of her older sister. 

Lisa caressed Lola’s dark brown hair.  “Come on,” she said, and she started to lead them down the street over to the Metropolitan Coffee House, where she took out that moist twenty dollar bill she had in her front pocket.  She then bought each of them a large slice of German chocolate cake.

For the next two weeks they camped at a remote campsite at nearby Jigger Johnson campground.  The father knew none of the kid’s friends would spot them there.  They had an old tent from when he had traversed the entire Appalachian Trail, from Mount Katahdin to Springer Mountain down in Georgia back when he was in college.  He had been an Army Ranger once; and after eight years in the service he got his honorable discharge and attended Boston College, where he got his degree in finance and liberal arts.   

At night the kids did their school work by firelight.  Later on their father taught them all about the stars.  They all learned their constellations by sight, even figuring out how to spot planets by searching for their gold light in the pristine nighttime sky.

Each morning Sherwood saw to it that the kids had some kind of breakfast.  Some mornings it was only a protein bar.  Other mornings it was cold cereal.  Sometimes it was a mere a cold sandwich other campers had shared with them the day before.  Pamela warmed up some water on their Coleman stove and gave the kids warm face cloths to wash themselves up with inside the tent.  The good thing was that Jigger Johnson had flush toilets that didn’t stink.  They even had a set of showers at the very front of the campground, but in the morning you usually had to take number to get in.

At school, Kyle and Lola went about their business.  But Lisa heard the whispers right away.  Her girl friends had been telling her that she was good looking and that all the boys in school were noticing her.  But didn’t feel it when she looked in the mirror and saw her thin frame and her straight blonde hair that was exactly like her mothers.

A week after they started living at the campground, this one boy, Taylor Johnson, came over and sat down next to Lisa during lunch.  She slapped him when his hand reached over toward her lap under the table.

Taylor, a tall, sandy-blonde senior who was on the football team, looked at Lisa like she totally misunderstood.

“Hey!  Hey!” he clamored. 

He tenderly took her hand, the one she had just tried to hit him with, and slipped a fifty-dollar bill into it.

List looked down at it bewildered. 

Quickly she stuck it down in her lap so no one else could see.  She didn’t understand.  She had never even spoken to Taylor Johnson before.

She watched as his face slowly turn red.  He leaned in and whispered.  “I grew up in Miami before I moved here.” 

As he leaned back their eyes met.

“I was homeless before,” he mouthed to her so no one else could hear.  And just like that, Taylor Johnson—senior, football player, formerly stuck up, no good, fake, plastic type—nodded to her like they had always been friends.

Three weeks later Lisa’s dad received some money from his sister out in Mesa, Arizona.  He also was able to get a 1-night a week job at Vito Marcello’s Italian Bistro, where he cleaned the kitchen on Sunday nights.  He only worked 4 hours, but they paid him a whole day’s wage.  They also packed him a huge basket of freshly cooked Italian goods to take home with him—veal parmesan, Tuscan veal chops, Joseph’s special lasagna, and rigatoni and meatballs for the kids.  Between the restaurant and the money his sister sent, Sherwood managed to get his family out of the campground and into the Stardust Hotel over by the edge of town. 

Lisa was shocked to find that there was a school bus stop right there at the hotel every morning.  Ten other local families who had been dispossessed from their homes were all quietly living there now too.

Soon the job over at Vito’s turned into a three-night a week gig.  Pamela eventually got a part-time job at the Bavarian Chocolate Haus in town.  Kyle and Lola stuffed themselves each night with every sort of chocolate.  One night when Lisa was looking for her sneakers she found her younger sister’s Cinderella slippers stuffed full of dark pecan turtles, coconut clusters, and dark chocolates dipped in apricot.  Lisa didn’t have the heart to say anything to Lola.  But it almost made her want to cry.

At night when she couldn’t sleep Lisa would get up and go out jogging.  At 11 o’clock one night she quietly got up, crept out the hotel door, and left her family at the Stardust so she could run some of her anxiety off.

Running at night under the stars in the moonlight with the mountain peaks poking through these large holes in the clouds made Lisa feel like she was alive again; far away from the place where she had to exist during the daytime. 

She tried to picture her future as she ran.  Where she would go to college.  What city she would live in.  The green color of the eyes of the boy she knew she would marry someday.  But the faster she pushed herself, the further away she got from what she was running away from, the more these pictures became abstract and in blocks of blue and gray, disheveled pieces of emotion, distant specks of brown and yellow paint drizzled over her mind until it looked like the wild colors of nest and string in Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948. 

Jogging by the empty parking lot at Wal-Mart Lisa noticed these two jacked up white pickup trucks off by the side where the dumpsters resided.

As she ran across the parking lot one of the white pickup trucks lights came on.

The next thing she knew it was driving fast across the parking lot, screeching to a halt in a cloud of smoke right in front of her like in the movies.

Three boys, all juniors, jumped out the windows of the pickup truck.

With great swagger, they came walking over to her.

Tommy Matson was the only one she recognized.  He grabbed her by the arm.  He then started to pull at her T-shirt like he was playfully trying to rip it off her.

“We’ll give you a ride home … if … you know?” he said.  His eyes gazed down at his crotch.

“I don’t want a ride home.  Especially from you.”

The next thing she knew Taylor Johnson’s bright yellow 1971 Plymouth Barracuda came driving up fast behind all of them. 

All three boys scattered like cockroaches.

Taylor jumped out of his Barracuda, his hands half-making a symbol like a gun as he yelled at the top of his lungs.  “You call that a truck?  Piece of junk!”

Lisa stood there trembling.

“Thank you,” she said.   Her arms wrapped around Taylor as he stared at the  three boys who were driving away now. 

Quickly, she changed gears and kissed him on the cheek.  She noticed his mouth and arms didn’t reciprocate. 

She leaned back, mortified, because she thought maybe he thought she was this pathetic, homeless, freak. 

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “I didn’t mean that.”

He looked at her so damn beautiful.   

He reached his hand over to her chin, where he gently turned her face so she had to look at him.  He then tenderly touched her blonde hair with his other hand. 

A quick smile flashed up on his face.

“You’re beautiful, Lisa Van Essen,” he told her.  “No matter where you live.  It doesn’t even matter.” 

He leaned forward and gently kissed her on the mouth; and then they kissed a little longer until she leaned back, because she was terribly embarrassed at how dripping wet she was from having been jogging earlier.

As she took a deep breath Lisa watched him start to back away. 

When he got to his open front door he nodded for her to get in his yellow Barracuda.  “I’ll take you back to your hotel,” he said.

She felt sick. 

“You know where I live?” she asked.  There was disappointment in her voice now.

Taylor nodded his head yes.  “Everyone knows,” he said.  He shrugged his shoulders like it was no big deal to him.  “It means nothing, Lisa.  Trust me.  I know. 

“Home is in here,” he said.  His hand pointed at his head, and then at his heart.

This pain ebbed through her chest.  She felt sick and excited and turned on all in the same breath.  She nodded her head, yes, because she wanted so much to believe what he was telling her.

“Maybe we can go out some time,” she blurted out.  Almost immediately she felt regret saying it.

Taylor seemed to laugh it off.   

“What?” she said half smiling.

“It’s just no girl has ever asked me out before,” he said.  There was this serious look on his face.

“Never?”

“No.  Not once.”

“Well other girls are idiots then.”

A warm, relaxed smile came to his handsome face.

“I can cook, too, you know,” she said; her shoulders got all this bravado in them.

“I believe it.”

He had this beautiful smile on his face as he slid back down into his yellow Barracuda.  She watched as he seemed to wait a second to see if she would change her mind about that ride back to the Stardust; and when she stood there without moving, actually frozen in place, Taylor politely nodded, didn’t mention anything about their date, and he smiled as he very boyishly spun the tires of his yellow Barracuda by stepping on the gas and holding down the brake. 

This blue-gray smoke came from his tires as his car screwed a hundred miles per hour out of the parking lot, going sideways down the road until his taillights traveled fast up White Mountain Highway back toward town and Mount Washington where God lived.

A little while later she quietly snuck back into the hotel room with her parent’s none the wiser about what had transpired that night up in the White Mountains. 

As she lie there on her air mattress staring at the swirls in the hotel ceiling, she couldn’t stop thinking about him now.  Over and over she wondered how he could like her when her own best friend at school, Stacy Bianchi, would only say “hi” to Lisa now and wouldn’t even sit with her at lunch anymore.  After repeating this in her head over and over she finally fell asleep; dreaming that she was back in her old bedroom in the house she grew up in.

As the months passed Lisa and her brother and sister finished the school year on the honor roll.  Her parents took any job they could, but still they had to go to the North Conway food bank, where they received as many staples as they could, but Lisa hated the place, because it was right next to the girl’s high school soccer field.

As the cool nights of the New Hampshire spring turned into these lush, hot summer nights, Lisa started to hang out with Taylor and his friends up at Echo Lake.  There they peeled off their clothes and went swimming to cool off from the incessant heat of the Bermuda high.  Some of his friends, especially the older ones, drank Budweiser and smoked pot, but after trying it and not feeling much of anything Lisa started to say no by telling everyone that pot gave her a headache.  Some nights her and Taylor would put their sneakers on and walk around the scenic trail that traversed the lake.  Other nights they would take all their cars and go up the mile-long auto road all the way to the top of 700-foot high Cathedral Ledge that overlooked Echo Lake and all of North Conway.

Atop the pristine pine topped ledge, Lisa and Taylor talked all night about their dreams and hopes and plans and assumptions about how life would turn out.  Each knew exactly what type of house they would live in, how many kids they would have, their names, the color of the dog they would own, how many cars they would have, and exactly how much they would earn at that dream job, because you had to love what you did for a living, otherwise why do it?

Without him even knowing it he taught her how to kiss a million different ways; and for the first time in her life she felt as though she loved somebody.   

Toward the end of that summer, on an especially hot summer night, Lisa went with Taylor and his friends up to the lake.  Like usual, Lisa and Taylor told everyone they were going to make a pass around the lake.  Instead, they found a spot together, where there was a small white catboat.  They got in it, Taylor, pulled up the mast, and they sailed out into the center of the lake.   

Specs of light glittered upon the black surface of the lake as it mirrored the tapestry of stars pinched into the sky all above them.

“There’s something I’ve got to tell ya,” Taylor said as they sat there motionless in the boat.  He looked up over at White Horse Ledge.  “I got accepted to Cal-Tech,” he said.

Lisa felt this sharp pain in her heart, but she didn’t say anything at first.  She could feel herself start to hyperventilate.

“But what about me?” she asked.  There was pain in her voice now.

“You’ll come to see me.”  

She nodded her head.

“I’m happy for you.  I honestly am.”

He stared at her from the other end of the boat.

“You’re not angry?”  

“No,” she lied.  “Let’s not talk about it.”

She carefully moved across the boat and turned and sat with her back up against him, so that he was holding her as she stared up at the outline of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range.  She watched as satellites flashed across the sky and then disappeared.  They talked for a while after that, and she even kissed him, but she suddenly felt far away from him now.

The next morning, Lisa was curt and abrupt with her parents.  When her mom asked her to pick her clothes up off the hotel room floor, Lisa looked at her, and then over at her father, who looked exhausted from working all night.

“I’m sick of it here!” Lisa shouted.  “I want to be normal again.”

She threw her clothes into a black trash bag and stood there in the middle of the hotel room with her younger brother and sister playing with their Star Wars LEGO’s on the bed.

“Can’t someone help us?” Lisa begged.  “Can’t we live in an apartment?  Isn’t there someplace else we can go?  It has to be your fault.  It has to be.”  She stared at her parents.  “How can it not be your fault?  You’re grownups?”

Her dad came over to her as she started to sob.

Her face, dull and red and full of these tears she didn’t want to feel anymore, contorted as she threw herself into her father’s arms and wept bitterly.  “I’m going to fix this, hon,” he said to her.  “Don’t worry.  I can fix this.  It’s only a matter of time.”

Two weeks later, on August 25th, she was standing there at corner of Mechanic Street where Taylor lived with his mom.  Lisa stood there alone for a long time as she stared at his old yellow Barracuda now up on blocks and covered by a green-gray nylon tarp.

Later, Taylor hugged her out in front of his house, where his mother’s light-blue Chrysler 300 was parked right out in the street.  He had given Lisa a card with a hundred-dollar bill in it and a note telling her how she was his best friend.  “I wasn’t even sure I was your girlfriend,” she whispered to him. 

Lisa watched Taylor as he wiped a single tear from of his eye.  He gave her a guilty smile, took a deep breath, and then told her he would see her in a few months. 

She kissed him right in front of his mother, trying to give him this broke-hearted kiss he would remember for the rest of his life.

But when she saw him get into his mother’s car, he casually waved goodbye like it was any other day, and she knew she had kissed Taylor Johnson for the last time.

The last week of summer in North Conway was this quiet, existential existence amid a hullabaloo of life that was going on all around her.   

Lisa watched as other families she knew bought these brand new sparkling red cars, spruced up their already nice homes, planted new lawns next to other new lawns, bought their kids all these fantastic new clothes, and went on as they normally did, never really knowing how lucky they were.  Lisa was actually happy for them.  All she could think was that she never wanted anyone else to ever have to feel the way she had been made to feel. 

She began to baby-sit, jogging the two miles every other night to the Olszewki’s house to watch their eight-month old son, Conner.  She gave the twenty-dollars she made each night to her parents to put aside to help them find someplace else to live other than the Stardust hotel.

When school started up again in the fall, every once in a while Lisa would jog down to Echo Lake and sit around the rocks and dream that she could see the ghost of herself with Taylor like they had been only the summer before.

Around October, when the sugar maples all turned red, and the yellow maples and sallow colored leaves of the aspen and birch burned a bright and fiery yellow, Lisa went down to the lake one last time before the winter set in.  She sat there dressed in her brand new winter coat that her crazy red-headed aunt Linda shipped to each member of the family from her home on Long Island.

She sat there on a lichen covered rock, staring up at the heights atop Cathedral Ledge.  Her mother and father still only had part-time jobs, all of them stuck living down there at the Stardust Hotel, their old house on Grove Street filled with the laughter and voices and love of some new family.  Suddenly, Lisa felt far away from everyone she had ever known.  What was happening all around the rest of the country didn’t even matter to her now.  What was happening on television didn’t matter.  It was as though she had been transported to some faraway planet; and everything that she had ever known was alien to her now.  Pain ceased to feel like pain.  It was simply this profound sadness that she felt; and she understood why people got drunk now.  And as Lisa stared up at the stars in the heavens all around Echo Lake, and she half-smiled when she saw the snow covered peaks of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range as they emerged from out behind a smattering of cloud, she could not help but feel that somehow she had been left behind too. 

*

Jéanpaul Ferro is a novelist, short fiction author, and poet from Providence, Rhode Island. An 9-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jéanpaul’s work has appeared on NPR, Contemporary American Voices, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Connecticut Review, Portland Monthly, and others. He is the author of Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009), nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; and Jazz (Honest Publishing, 2011) nominated for both the 2012 Griffin Prize in Poetry and the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Prize in Poetry.   He is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.  He currently lives along the south coast of southern Rhode Island.  Website: www.jeanpaulferro.com  * E-mail: jeanpaulferro@netzero.net

Fiction #41: Philip Miletic

The Strangest Places

“In life, one finds friends in the strangest places” – Seven Samurai

Jonathan set out for a walk in the early morning. He wanted a yellow orchid. Yellow like the dawn sun. So bright that it peels back squinted eyes, shoves clouds into a misty haze to reveal a light dazzling blue. But Jonathan lives in a town transitioning into a city, where green and gardens are receding like hairlines and the only flower shop is limited to corsages and boutonnières for the local high school proms. They certainly would not have a yellow orchid, thought Jonathan.

So Jonathan set out that morning to look for a yellow orchid outside the city. The city’s exterior is mostly long stretches of highway, but if you head north there is an escarpment. The escarpment is steep, but it has its paths and can be quite the retreat for those determined enough. It may have the yellow orchid that Jonathan sought.

When Jonathan stepped outside of his house he was immediately hailed by his neighbour, Peter, to the right of him. Jonathan approached Peter, who was lying on the hood of his car, scratching his stomach where his t-shirt was torn. Peter lifted his head to look at Jonathan, but remained sprawled on the hood of his car. Jonathan didn’t know what kind of car the car was.

“Jonathan.”

“Peter. How are you?”

“I’m stuck, Jonathan.”

“Stuck?”

“Yes…stuck.” Jonathan’s head fell back. He appeared tired. Like he had been lying there awake all night. Or for a really long time. Peter continued to scratch his stomach and play with the hole in his shirt.

“How are you stuck?”

“I’m stuck! I don’t know!” Peter squirmed and Jonathan watched. “Please help me get up.” A bird shit on Peter.

“Oh dear!” Jonathan rushed over to Peter’s left side. He grabbed Peter’s arm and tried to tug him upright, but Jonathan couldn’t lift Peter up.

“Ow! Don’t rip off my arm!”

“Sorry!” Jonathan then noticed the iron braces that were screwed into the car’s hood over Peter’s biceps. “You’re screwed into the car. Do you have any tools?”

“Yes, I have tools.”

“Where?”

Peter thought for a moment and answered slowly: “The garage.” Jonathan started for the garage but Peter hailed him: “Wait!”

“What?”

“I…I forget.” He scratched his side a bit lower than he had previously. “Some damn thing is underneath me,” he mumbled.

“What?”

“Just get the tool box!”

“Okay.”

Jonathan continued towards the garage. The garage door was closed but wasn’t locked. He opened the garage door, which was green and heavy, too heavy to lift all the way. So Jonathan stooped under the slightly ajar garage door and let it fall closed behind him with an echoing bang.

The garage was dark and smelt musty, but Jonathan could make out a silver line and a faint outline of a light bulb. He made his way to the silver line, concentrating on not losing it from his sights, tripping over a lawn mower, extension cords, and bumping into randomly scattered boxes filled with, what Jonathan thought, cinder blocks. Jonathan pulled the silver chain, but the light bulb only illuminated a small area around him. However, the walls now had outlines of objects and shelves. He can make out colours here and there too. Faintly. Jonathan had always thought that toolboxes were red. He wasn’t sure if the red colour of toolboxes he had in mind came from cartoons or from his father’s toolbox.

On the very top of one of the shelves was a red box and so it had to be the toolbox that Jonathan was looking for. But Jonathan was only a mere 5’5”, the shelf with the red toolbox towering over him. He needed a ladder, but after looking around the garage he could find none. He exited out of the garage, again stooping low to get under the garage door because of its weight, and asked Peter where his ladder was because the toolbox was on the top shelf.

“I put it on the top shelf!” Peter then thought for a moment. “Ah, shit. It’s over at Walter’s house.” Peter assumed that Jonathan knew Walter, so after a brief silence he asked who and where Walter was. “Walter Schwarts. He lives just around the corner on Halite Drive. 23.”

Jonathan briskly walked, without grumbling or any sign of annoyance, down Lakeside Street and around the corner to 23 Halite drive. The house looked like all the other houses down this street, and he didn’t know what they were called. He used to.

The door was a dark chalkboard green. He had the option of knocking or ringing the doorbell. For Jonathan, knocking on the door seemed violent, as if he were trying to break down the down and barge right in. He rang the bell and waited. He rang the bell again just when the door was opened, but not all the way.

“Yes?”

“Walter?” 

“Yes?” He still refused to open the door all the way, yet Jonathan could make out his features. Short black hair, a five o’clock shadow, and eyes that were either squinting or naturally like that.             

“Hi, I’m a friend of Peter’s­–” 

“Peter Who?”           

“I don’t know his last name…But he lives down on Lakeside!”            

“Oh! Okay. How can I help you?” Walter now opened the door so that he fully stood before Jonathan. Jonathan informed Peter’s peculiar case, the toolbox, and his need for a ladder. “Oh yeah, the ladder. Been meaning to give that back. Well, it’s just around the side of the house. It should be right by the well. You can’t miss it. Help yourself.” And with saying that, Walter closed the door.

Around the house, Jonathan noticed the well right away and the ladder just beyond it. As he passed by the well, Jonathan heard a voice. “Hello?” said the voice. It sounded like a child’s.

Jonathan looked around but couldn’t tell which direction the voice was coming from. “Hello?”

“The well! I’m down in the well!” Jonathan peered down but couldn’t see anything but darkness. Not even an outline of a boy. “Help me! Is someone there?!”

Jonathan didn’t say anything for a short while, wondering how could a child have fallen into this well. Its wall was pretty high up, at least to his knees. “Yes. Hi. I’m Jonathan. Are you Walter’s son?”

“Who?” Who was this child and what was he doing in a stranger’s backyard?

“Never mind. What’s your name, kid?”

“Nathanial.”

“Nathanial, where do you live?” Jonathan now sat himself down on the edge of the well, as if he were settling down to a conversation with a friend.

“Just down the street.” Jonathan became engrossed in his conversation with Nathanial, sitting on the edge of the well, dangling his legs in the well as he asked him what school he goes to, what he’s taking there, his favourite subject, sport, hobby, etc. The two things that Nathanial wanted in life, Jonathan found out, was to have a dog and to be an astronaut so he can go to outer space with his dog. Soon, Nathanial seemed to have forgotten that he was stuck down a well talking with a man he has never met before. After a brief silence, Jonathan said,

“Well, time to get you out of this well!” As he said this, he slapped his hands onto his legs for support to rise. He made his way to the ladder, thinking that the ladder would suffice. “I’m lowering down a ladder. Let me know if you can reach it and at least grab on to it.”  After Jonathan lowered the ladder has far as he could, even dangerously leaning into the well, Nathanial said he couldn’t reach it although he could see it a little. Nathanial suggested getting a rope from that Walter guy. Jonathan agreed that this was a good idea, but when he headed towards the house, he tripped and fell on the ground. Something had hooked around his foot, and when he tried to free himself of whatever it was, he discovered it was a thin black wire. When Jonathan lifted it slightly, he could see that it led straight to the well and into it. He tugged on the wire and realized there was a weight to it, so he began to pull the wire towards him and a walkie talkie appeared. Jonathan stared at the walkie talkie: “Nathanial?”

“Yes,” said Nathanial, innocently.

“Nothing, I’m going to see Walter now.” Jonathan followed the wire right to the back door of Walter’s house. He looked into the window beside the back door and saw Walter sitting on a couch with a walkie talkie in his hand and a big grin on his face. Jonathan spoke into the walkie-talkie: “Oh Nathanial.” He saw Walter respond. Jonathan knocked on the window. Walter looked over and smiled. Jonathan waved and so did Walter, making his way over to the window. Lifting the window up, “You got me,” Walter said. “Not too many people do.”

“You do it often? Why?”

“Well, it’s sometimes the best way to get the best conversations out of people. It’s sort of like how when you visit someone in the hospital and you can’t say something like, ‘So what have you been up to’ because they’ve been lying in the hospital and that’s depressing as fuck, no one would want to talk about their time in the hospital. ‘Oh, you know, just watched some bad soaps’ or ‘the guy next to me fell asleep with the remote and left the weather channel on.’ So you kind of talk around the situation that they’re in. Which is exactly what you did! You didn’t ask how I, or the child, got down in the well. You didn’t even ask if I was alright because you knew if I talked back I was fine and would be comforted by conversation. It’s what a doctor doesn’t do. A doctor says, ‘You’ll be fine’ and then says ‘see you in a couple of weeks’ or months, or never because by the time the doctor comes around, you’re dead! Or a nurse, no matter how much you give them thanks and praise, they just mumble ‘no problem.’ And if you want to start a conversation with them, forget it! They even sound pissed when you do.”

“How do you know all this?”

“My wife had cancer, my grandfather dementia, and I myself was hospitalized a couple of times for…stupid mistakes.”

“Oh jeez.”

“Yeah, but that’s life. Or at least my life anyhow.” Jonathan liked how Walter hung out the window, leaning on the windowsill, not really looking at him. Just occasionally. Walter smiled. “But I should let you go and get your ladder. I bet Peter is dying right now in this heat.” It was extremely hot today, and Jonathan shuddered thinking about the steel hood of the car. “It was nice talking to you Jonny even though our conversation was a little bit of a fiction. But then again, what conversation isn’t?” At this, Walter closed the door and walked back to his chair, still smiling.

Jonathan grabbed the ladder and walked back towards Peter’s house. Behind him he could hear the revving of a car’s engine, like a car speeding down the street towards him. He looked back and saw a red car barreling down the road. Jonathan looked away and continued walking along the sidewalk. All of sudden, a squealing of tires and the smell of burning rubber. The red car stopped alongside Jonathan and all he heard was, “You! Please! You need to help me! Get in the car!” Jonathan looked over to see the voice addressing him. The voice belonged to a woman, blonde short hair and very pretty eyes. Jonathan found her familiar and because he found her familiar, he entered the car. As soon as he closed the door, she stepped on the gas.

“What’s your name?”

“Jonathan.” Before he can ask her name, she said:

“Smile.”

“What?” Jonathan was still struggling to put on a seatbelt.

“Smile or I’ll crash this car.”

Jonathan remained silent and gazed at the woman. She turned sharply around corners causing Jonathan to slide back and forth in his seat (he hadn’t bothered putting his seatbelt on), yet he still fixated his gaze on her. She looked at him now and then with a quick glance, keeping her eyes on the road. She didn’t ask of him her demand twice nor did she threaten him a second time. She seemed to be holding her breath. Nothing was playing on the radio. Or it was turned down low. Jonathan had an idea.

“Okay I’ll smile.” She didn’t look him but responded flatly,

“Okay.”

“But…”

“But?” Okay, Jonathan thought, she said “but,” which means she’s open to a suggestion.

“Since you’re taking me a lot further away from home, would you please—if I smile—take me back to my house.” Without asking where he lived, she replied yes. “Okay.” He tapped her on the shoulder. “Ready when you are.” She stopped the car, again at a sudden halt.

He smiled. He smiled and held his smile for what felt like a long time as she stared back at him with a plain stone face, as if she were studying his smile. But he continued to smile until she showed some sign of approval. He smiled the smile that brought tears to brighten the eyes.

She smiled back.

“I knew you would. Thank you.” She shifted the car into drive. “Where to?” He told her.

When he stepped out of the car, he asked her why she asked him to smile.

“I needed to see a smile,” she said. “Sometimes I close my eyes while driving to see if I am driving.” Jonathan didn’t know what to say to this. “Okay, Jonathan. Thank you. And good-bye.” And before he could say good-bye, she had already begun to move forward and was out of thought.

“Did you get the ladder?” Peter said. Jonathan realized he had dropped the ladder when the woman picked him up. “Shoot. I dropped it.”

“You dropped it?”

“Be right back.”

Jonathan returned to where the woman had picked him up and he dropped the ladder. The ladder was right there but two girls were playing what looked to be hopscotch with it. Jonathan watched them play for a minute. The game, if it was a game, was simple as far as he could see: the first girl hopped on her left foot over one rung and landed on her left foot. She repeated this with the right foot and so on. The second girl started with her right foot and did the same as the first girl. When the second girl reached the first girl, they clasped hands and spun around in circles three times. They repeated this whole procedure in the opposite direction.

Jonathan hailed them and asked them what they were playing. They both stared at him, frightened. Jonathan, not experienced in these situations, said, “I’m sorry. I know you’re playing a game but that ladder that you’re playing with is my ladder and I need it right now.” He said this in the friendliest voice he could think of, attempting to put on the friendliest face. He even crouched to their level and kept his distance. Finally the two girls spoke.

“But we want to continue playing.” Jonathan again did not have a reply, so he asked their names. “I’m Patricia and this is Victoria.”

“Are you two sisters?”

“Yes. Twins.” said Victoria.

“Twins! Wow!” The twins looked unimpressed. “Well, why were you playing with my ladder here?”

“We ran out of chalk.”

“We told mommy and daddy that we needed more chalk.
 

“Because yesterday rained and washed away all our paintings and our game.”

“But it rained last night when we were asleep and we didn’t know it rained until we woke up and mommy and daddy had gone to work.”

“They go to work early.”

 “Well,” said Jonathan. “I’ll get you some chalk.” He really hoped he could fulfill this promise when he saw their smiles that simultaneously arrived on their faces. “So wait here and continue playing your game.”

“Okay!” They both shouted.

 “Okay,” he echoed back.

Not wanting to head back to his place, Jonathan knocked on Walter’s door. Walter answered and asked why he had returned so soon.

“Was the ladder broken or something?”

“No, no. See those girls over there?” Jonathan pointed in their direction. “They’re using my ladder to play their game of some sort.”

“Well how did they get it? Didn’t you have it?”

“Long story. Anyways, they want to continue playing their game and I don’t want to make them cry and ruin their day. So it appears that all they want is chalk to draw their hopscotch grid. Do you have any?”

“You kidding me!?” Jonathan was startled by Walter’s enthusiastic response. “Come in. I’ll need your help.” Jonathan followed him into his house and down the basement stairs. “I used to be a chalk fanatic when I was a kid. But like all kids, it was only a phase. I used to draw on the driveway with chalk that rivaled some paintings. My dad once said I was the Pollock of Driveways. And one day, for my birthday, they bought me this enormous tub of chalk. But by that time…well, it was that day, I had given up or got bored with chalk. Yet, I’m not one to just throw gifts away, so I’ve kept it here.” Walter removed a tarp and revealed a very large tub of chalk. Jonathan carried it up because Walter said he had pulled his shoulder the other day and he couldn’t do any heavy lifting. “Doctor’s orders.”

When Jonathan returned to the girls with the chalk, they were delighted. Before he took the ladder, the girls traced the outline of the ladder with chalk. They said thank you, and as Jonathan left he reminded them that they should get their parents to carry the chalk back home.

“It’s pretty heavy, so I doubt that anyone else will take it while you are gone. In fact,” he added, “only your parents can lift it other than me!” The girls looked in wonder at the tub of chalk. Jonathan waved goodbye and was glad he now had the ladder and can finally get to the red toolbox to free Peter so he can continue to look for his yellow orchid.

Peter asked what had taken him so long, but Jonathan just told him to be patient. He entered the garage, and angled the ladder against the shelf and climbed to the top where the red toolbox was. He went to grab it, but it moved, or he thought it moved.  Then he heard movement within the red toolbox. He opened it to find a little woman within it.

“Are you looking for something?” asked the little woman.

“Yes, I am, er–”

“Brenda. Et tu?”

“Jonathan.”

“Hi Jonathan, how can I help you?”

“My friend, Peter, is screwed into the hood of his car. I need to get him out and I thought this was a toolbox.”

“My home, a toolbox! Ha! Completely different than what you were expecting, huh?”

 “Completely…This is your home? Why did it seem like you were trying to get out?”

“Get out? Oh, I was dancing.” Brenda twirled, sending her dress to float up and then down when she came to a stop. “It’s one of my favourite pastimes. It’s how I pass the time.”

“So why are you in here?”

“Well, I was just like you. Height-wise I mean. But then one day, I didn’t like the demands that were being forced upon me. I felt small, so why should I just feel small. I found this red box and I thought it was perfect. I stepped inside and now here I am!”

“You shrunk, just like that?”

“Just like that, Jonny boy. I know, a bit unbelievable, but hey, I did it.”

 “Interesting, I never thought anyone could shrink themselves.”

 “Doesn’t just happen in science fiction movies. So! Help? Screwdriver? Perhaps I can help you!” Brenda opened the door at the back of the box that led, what looked like, downstairs. Brenda came back up with a screwdriver that could screw any screw. She handed it to Jonathan. Once the screwdriver was in his hands, it grew in size so that it looked like a regular screwdriver and not the tiny one she was carrying. “There you go mister! How do you like it?”

 “It’ll do just fine thanks!”

 “Alrighty. Well, if you don’t mind, I would like to continue dancing and I don’t think I’m ready for an audience yet.”

 “Oh come on,” Jonathan encouraged. “Dance once for me.”

 “Okay, well. Fine. But…you have to sing the song to me.”

 “I can’t sing.”

 “Hum then, just hum a tune or something!” So Jonathan started to hum a waltz and Brenda danced. When she had finished, Jonathan clapped, smiling.

 “That was great!”

 “You’re lying.”

 “Fine then! I’m lying, but I’ll say it again anyhow: you were great!” She blushed.

 “Just been practicing ever since I entered this box here. Now get the hell out of here! And don’t worry about the screwdriver. Just hand it back to your friend Peter, or keep it for yourself as a souvenir from the great dancer, Brenda!” Jonathan waved as he slowly closed the red box and then made his way out of the garage and beside Peter who was now nearly covered in bird shit from head to toe.

 “Hurry the hell up and unscrew me, man! I’ve got this itch under me I can’t quite get at!” So Jonathan unscrewed Peter as fast as he could. Once free, Peter rose up and hopped onto his feet and stretched himself as far as he could towards the sky. He patted Jonathan on the back: “Thanks man. Gotta take a shower. I owe you one!” Something on the hood of the car caught Jonathan’s eye and he mumbled something. “What’s that?”

 “Never mind.” Near the middle of Peter’s bird shit outline, right where his side had been, was a yellow orchid.

 Jonathan picked up the orchid, examining its fragile yet unbroken beauty, and smiled.

*

philip miletic is currently a teaching assistant and research assistant at Brock University. His short fiction has been featured in dead (g)end(er) and his poetry has been featured in ditch, magazine. He lives in Grimsby, ON.