Letters From The Moving Coast

No matter how much time it takes
I want a little more
a coastline always changing
time and sea complaining

so I claim the littorals and vicissitudes
of these crowding waters
this needy weather
as any reason you might demand

but I do ask that you forgive
these letters from the moving coast
please understand they are no less true
for being unpredictable.

 

 

About the Poet: Dean Baltesson is a poet and musician living in Victoria BC Canada. He is currently working on a volume of poetry entitled There Must be Words To Describe This. His poetry and can be found in a number of online and print literary journals or on his recent CD “Covering Ground”.

Latchkey Kid

by Nina Lichtenstein

     As a kid, the key to our apartment dangled on a string around my neck. I guess my working parents felt confident I would manage on my own in the afternoons until they came home at dinnertime. If I had any spare time on my hands I did not spend it inside reading, keeping a diary or doing puzzles, but instead, I roamed the neighborhood looking for nooks and crannies to explore, for people to talk to. Sometimes that meant getting into trouble. I was a crafty, devious and curious youngster, who loved sneaking around doing my share of shoplifting candy and comic books from the corner store. I loved to befriend my older neighbors, who were looking for company and someone who would listen to their stories. These were the adults who were around and also had time to pay attention to me. Visiting with them, I did not feel awkward as I did around my peers, and the older folks would welcome me into their apartments, smiling and offering a snack or two. No need to act cool or prove my belonging here. Although their homes would often smell funny and the foods they offered seemed old fashioned compared to what I was served at home, I loved having places to go where I was welcomed, accepted and made to feel as though I mattered. My parents never worried about my safety. It might have been the times. It might have been my parents. My dad would later tell me I was raised with “freedom under responsibility.” It’s possible I might have preferred less freedom and less responsibility. 

***

     Emilie Fleischer, or Mille, as was her nickname, was in her early eighties, and had I known the word when I was a child, I would have said she looked bohemian. In her floor-length pleated black skirts and black velvet headband dramatically accenting her thinning pageboy-shaped white hair, she fancied herself an artist, or at least a connoisseur of art. Mille was a spinster like her sister Helene, and they lived together in the apartment above us in Oslo, Norway, where I grew up. Somber paintings lined the walls of their dark apartment that smelled musty and faintly like old bodies that needed to bathe. The long, deep-red velvet curtains in the archways between the large, high-ceiling rooms made their home feel dramatic, as the fabric hung heavy from massive dark wooden rods with rounded, carved finials, the drapery forming pools of red on the floor like on a theater stage. I was happy here in this unconventional and mysterious place, where my arrival was anticipated with food and companionship. 

     I often went upstairs and rang their doorbell right after I came home from school. Mille wore dentures, and sometimes she would open the door without them. I was enthralled and a little scared by the cavernous hole of her mouth, her tongue prominently visible as she lisped her greeting past lips that turned inward, wrapped over her pink gums. When Mille offered me a snack she might fish out an overripe banana from their pantry and hand me half while mashing the other half for herself, like baby food. Sometimes she would let me mash it for her, making me feel conscientious and competent. We took turns cutting up fruits on a wooden retractable cutting board hidden directly under the kitchen counter, above the top drawer. Pulling it out, she would grasp the small white porcelain knob with a silver center that had gray dirt encrusted into its circular ridge. The board was usually moist looking or full of breadcrumbs, and the middle section of the wooden surface was worn down, creating a slight dip from years of slicing bread in the same spot.  

     Sometimes when I visited, the sisters would say they wanted to celebrate—I never knew or understood what the occasion might be other than it was something special. I would help them whip up three raw eggs and several tablespoons of sugar until the foamy blend became stiff enough to hold a shape when we pulled a spoon through it to check if it was ready. The egg cream or eggedosis is a traditional Norwegian treat loved by children and is usually served on holidays. The sisters would let me portion out the sweet, creamy froth into three identical cut crystal goblets. The fancy glasses stood gleaming, lined up on the kitchen counter where I was meticulously at work making sure I achieved an equal division of the smooth, yellow blend, licking the spills from my fingers. Helene would leave the kitchen and I could hear her rummage with bottles in their antique curio cabinet in the dining room. Taking up an entire wall, the massive piece of furniture was dark and ornate with beveled glass doors and a carved wooden front, and sat heavy in the brightest but least utilized room in the apartment. Helene would return with a fancy bottle of golden brown liquid, its gilded label inscribed with foreign words I didn’t understand. Using an old, large and dented silver spoon—so tarnished even I noticed that it needed polishing—Mille would carefully measure three spoonfuls into two of the three glasses. 

     In the living room, the deep and plush, moss-colored velvet couch was supported by clawed wooden feet and adorned with a carved top rail. Sitting between them, we slowly nursed the egg cream with teaspoons while looking through their family albums of black and white photographs. The sisters had many such books—big, heavy guardians of memories, and they would share a little story for each photograph as they took turns pointing out this one or that one. Small, square or rectangular images with white zigzag borders, attached to heavyweight, matte black pages, were held in place by tiny triangular white corner pockets. Beneath the photos, most of them faded, captions were written carefully in beautiful cursive handwriting with a thick white pencil; names of people, places and dates going back to the 1920s, 30s and 40s, when everything looked glamorous and romantic. In some of the photos I recognized a younger Helene or Mille, their dresses long, elegant, white and full of lace. Some of the faces were blurry, and many of the people seemed serious. There were photos of the sisters as girls, posing in sailor dresses with matching hats, somberly looking at the camera from the top of the front steps of their summer home, or in front of a blooming fruit tree. 

     Time would fly like this; me, squeezed comfortably in between the sisters, the heat from their soft bodies surrounding me. I looked up toward the tall windows facing the street, only partly visible through the archway connecting their two spacious living rooms, and I noticed, but did not care, that it was growing dark outside. 

     Sometimes my mother would ring the doorbell to fetch me for dinner, but it remained my little shared secret with the sisters that we had indulged in such a decadent afternoon snack.

***

     My family never knew much about their quiet, enigmatic lives, and one day when I was about thirteen, Helene died and Mille was alone for the first time in her life. She became a recluse, and when my mother would ring her doorbell to see if we could help with food-shopping or other practical things, she would peer through the crack with the safety chain still attached, trying to discern if she could trust the caller. Sometimes she would reluctantly let my mother help, but often scrutinized the receipt and claim that she had been cheated—blaming the grocer, other times my mother. My parents bought a townhouse in the suburbs around this time, and we moved away. I missed my old neighborhood and all the connections I had made there, and although we were just a short bus-ride away, it wasn't the same. The daily-ness of it was gone. Soon we learned from other neighbors in our old building that Mille had been moved to a nursing home. I took the bus to the other side of town and visited her once or twice, and while she seemed to remember me, she had what seemed like an imaginary, confusing story to tell about the thieves in the nursing home and her many lost and stolen personal items. She kept a stash of toilet paper rolls in the basket attached to her walker. I followed Millie down the hallways of her new residence so she could show me her room. Her body hunched over the handles of her walker, she mumbled, “they sure do steal around here.” 

     I don’t remember when Mille died, or the last time I saw her. I recall my mother mention the sisters’ niece, who was making all the “arrangement.” As the next of kin, she would inherit their apartment. 

     Whenever I go back to Oslo to visit family and friends, I detour through the streets of my childhood. Passing the pre-war brick apartment building where I used to live, I look up at the windows of our old living room and my parents’ bedroom above the gateway to the inner courtyard, and above them, the windows of the Fleischer sisters’ apartment. In the place of their heavy drapes are fashionable Marimekko curtains with bold, orange flowers with black eyes, and a set of glass Ikea vases, purposefully arranged.  

     I resist ringing the doorbell. I know that seeing the inside of the apartment will alter forever my ability to vividly recall the afternoons spent in their company. How I would nestle on the couch between two warm, generous women’s bodies, and sense that I belonged. They made me feel welcome and important. Their wrinkled faces beamed as they spoke, and their hands—with paper-thin almost translucent skin—gestured with generosity, offering food and stories. Our souls were kindred and in need of one another. Their door was always open. I didn't need a key.

 

 

About Nina Lichtenstein: 
Nina is a native of Oslo, Norway, and has a PHD in French literature. She has lived in CT for nearly 30 years, where she kept busy studying, teaching and raising her three sons. An empty nester, she recently migrated north to Maine to pursue a quiet writing life, which is constantly interrupted. Her first book, on Jewish women writers from North Africa, just came out. Some of Nina's writing lives on her blogs https://vikingjewess.com/ and https://thatsfunnyyoudontlookjewish.wordpress.com/, and other essays have been published on the Brevity Blog, in The Washington Post, Lilith Magazine, Literary Mama, and Hevria, among other places. You can learn more about Nina and her work at her website: https://www.ninalichtenstein.com/

Ferris Wheel

by James Barnett

When the Ferris wheel stopped and they were swinging ninety feet above the midway, Clara told her husband Archie she was leaving him. It was one of those late fall, carnival nights at the fairgrounds on the edge of town. Uncomfortable in high places, Archie had pleaded his fear of heights, but Clara insisted that he ride with her. He focused his eyes on the lights of Joplin to avoid glancing down and considered what his wife had said.

“I don’t love you anymore,” Clara said, as if her previous declaration needed justification.

Watching a distant streetlight change from green to yellow to red, Archie gripped the lightweight metal bar that spanned their laps and supposedly provided a measure of protection. He tried to think of something to say, but “I’m leaving you” and “I don’t love you anymore” belonged at the end of a dialog about marriage, not at the beginning.

“You’re a good man, Archie,” Clara said. She wiped a tear from her cheek with her coat sleeve. “But I don’t feel the way I use to.” 

The streetlights blurred. Archie wanted to undo whatever had been done to cause Clara to say these things. He loved their life together. During their twenty years of marriage, he had taken comfort in his wife’s companionship. Clara knew how Archie liked his eggs and his pancakes. Archie knew how Clara liked her anniversary steak at Western Sizzlin. He also knew, or thought he knew, how Clara liked her sex.

The notion that his wife might be having an affair hadn’t yet occurred to Archie, so he didn’t ask that question. Instead, he focused on fixing what was wrong. “How ‘bout you take some time off work and we go up to Lake Xavier?” he said. “I know we can work out whatever’s bothering you.”

They’d been happy at the lake. The rental cabins reminded Archie of his childhood summers. Clara read her novels on the screened porch while he spearfished down at the pier. With her job as a realtor, she could usually reschedule an appointment or two and get away for a couple of days. Time off wasn’t a problem for Archie. The local junior college didn’t renew his teaching contract; he’d been unemployed since the first of the year. 

Clara sat in silence for a few moments. A shift in the breeze intensified the swirling calliope music and blew wisps of food smells from the half-deserted midway. When she spoke, her voice had an angry edge. “We went to the lake last month. You hardly spoke to me the whole weekend.”

Archie looked at his wife. Her hazel eyes regarded him without affection. He had seen that look before, but hadn’t paid any attention, thinking she was just having a bad day. Now, he began to realize that their relationship had shifted. Clara was different. She’d added some color to her dull auburn hair and was wearing it a little longer. He’d also noticed her running shoes in the foyer and was aware that she’d been exercising, although she never mentioned it. He could have told her that she didn’t need to lose any weight; in his eyes, she was virtually the same physically as when they married, except for the pounds she retained after the birth of their daughter, Maxine.

“I don’t remember the lake weekend like that,” he said. “We watched Cardinal baseball and you surprised me with a bottle of champagne to celebrate my birthday.”

“Archie, I wanted to turn off the television so we could sit on the porch and toast your fortieth.” 

“We could’ve waited ‘til the game was over. By the time the Cards wrapped it up, you had already gone to bed.”

Clara leaned back in the seat, causing a creaking sound from the rusty cotter pins that fastened their gondola to the Ferris wheel’s ancient steel frame. Archie tightened his grip on the safety bar and was about to make another plea for the lake when he noticed Clara’s fleeting look over the side, down toward the bottom of the wheel. He followed her glance and saw a dark figure standing in the shadows, staring up in their direction.

Something else struck Archie as being odd. He and Clara were the only people riding the wheel. The boarding platform was empty. Why had the wheel stopped if no one was getting on?

While Archie was making these observations, Clara had been talking. “… and you’re content with the way things are,” she said. “Turning forty didn’t seem to bother you, but it scares the hell out of me.”

A gibbous moon floated above the lights of the regional airport, about three miles distant. “Forty’s just a number, Clara. I like our life together.” Archie searched his wife’s eyes for understanding. “Losing my teaching job has made things difficult,” he said, “but that was just a temporary setback. I’ve been working on my resumé.”

“There are things I want to do,” Clara said, “before it’s too late, before I set myself up to be a bitter old lady.”

Archie saw an opening. “Tell me what you want to do and I’ll do it with you. Is there someplace you want to go?” Clara’s expression told Archie he was on the wrong track. “Okay, let’s talk about it,” he said. “Please, tell me what you want.”

Clara wiped away another tear. “I want to write a memoir.”

Archie stared at his wife. A memoir. “Honey,” he said, “you don’t have to leave me to write a memoir.” He sensed a possible resolution to the dilemma, although it seemed too obvious. “Why, you can do it at home.” Feeling a welling of relief, he said, “I’ll fix up Maxine’s old room for you. If you need a new computer, we still have our savings.”

Clara’s laugh was merciless. “Savings? Your stretch of unemployment has wrecked our savings.” Her voice assumed a tone of superiority that Archie had never heard. “Besides, you’ve completely missed the point of what I’m trying to tell you. There’s no memoir in my life with you.”

Not knowing how to counter that statement, Archie kept quiet. 

“Tonight’s when I change that,” she said. “I want to rob a bank.”

Archie’s jaw dropped open.

Clara laughed. “Not really rob a bank, Archie. But I’ve got to do something like that, something that takes me out on the edge, where I’ll have to rely on my instincts to keep me alive.” She was staring past Archie, her eyes wide, as if she could see a thousand yards into her future. “I’ve lain awake nights with my eyes closed and watched myself assassinate Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. I’ve rescued mountain gorillas from machete-wielding poachers. Dressed completely in black, my face darkened with kohl, I’ve stolen the Mona Lisa.” Her voice lowered back to reality. “And there you are the next morning, handing me my coffee. Jesus, Archie, I’ve got to get away from who I am.”

“Does Maxine know about this?” Archie said. Their daughter was newly married and starting her senior year at Missouri State.

“Yes,” Clara said. “She doesn’t like it. She’s afraid of what it will do to you.” 

Archie felt the sting of knowing that Clara talked to Maxine before talking to him. But then, his wife could have simply left him without having this awkward Ferris wheel talk.

“Maxine wants her home place to stay the same,” Clara continued. “She wants her daddy and mommy to always be there, frozen in time, like some hokey television show.” The resentful tone was back in Clara’s voice. “I told her she was being selfish.”  Clara looked out toward the city lights. “I had to make her promise me she wouldn’t call you and tell you what I was about to do. I finally convinced her that it would be best if I talked to you.” 

“And what is it, Clara, that you’re … about to do?”

Clara leaned over and looked down at the man that ran the Ferris wheel. Turning back to Archie, she said, “That’s Blackjack Andy. He wants to take me with him when the carnival packs up tonight.” 

Blackjack Andy for Christ’s sake! It took all of Archie’s self-control to keep from laughing in Clara’s face. But the urge to laugh was only momentary. His wife was telling him she belonged to another man. With this realization, Archie’s imagination stumbled into the cheesy funhouse down on the midway, the one with wavy mirrors and demented laughter. Instead of his own twisted reflection, he saw ghastly images of Blackjack Andy in the form of some kind of human bull ravishing his wife. “Oh Jesus,” he moaned. 

Clara was talking again, “… Blackjack can give me the life experiences I need for my memoir. He wants to leave the carnival and go back to being a con artist.” With a dreamy look in her eyes, she said, “He needs a partner, and he says I’ve got what it takes.” 

“Where did you meet this guy?” Archie said, leaning back to peer over the seat. The rig’s intervening web of girders made it hard to see the figure down below. He tried unsuccessfully to recall the face of the man who helped them into the seat and clamped the safety bar in place. But people on the fringe of society can be invisible when they cross your path. They probably prefer it that way. 

“We met at the county library,” Clara said. For a moment, her face took on a quizzical expression. “He’s a carnival worker at night, but during the day Blackjack reads Proust and Melville. He said he’s working on his own memoir, and he’ll help me with mine.” Clara hesitated a moment, and then said, “That is, as soon as I can have my adventure.” 

Archie groaned. A carnival stud on the prowl in Joplin and Clara thinks he’s a goddamn intellectual. Won’t the folks at church be full of gossip about this? “Poor Archie,” they’d say, “his wife ran off with the circus boy.” He’d have to listen to their insincere condolences, while they laughed among themselves, the men secretly thankful that it was Clara and not one of their wives. The women would have their own carnival daydreams about tattooed musclemen they’d seen lifting and straining among the guy wires and canvas.  

“Don’t look so sad, Archie,” Clara said, misinterpreting her husband’s brooding face. “This won’t just be my adventure. You’ll have adventures of your own.”

Archie smirked at the thought: a library science teacher taming broncos or fighting as a mercenary in some South American jungle. He didn’t want an adventure, so he asked Clara for a compromise. “After your, uh, spree with Blackjack Andy, will you come home to write your memoir?”

Clara hesitated before speaking. “That’s a question I can’t answer,” she said, “until this next phase of my life is over.” A snippet of a calliope chorus floated past. “Archie, you should assume, for your own good, that you’ll never see me again after tonight.”

“What if I decide to file for divorce?” Archie said.

In a matter-of-fact tone, Clara said, “I’ll sign the papers, if you can find me.”

Archie put his hand on Clara’s shoulder. He didn’t know what else to say, so he simply shook his head, like when a doctor rises from the bedside of a dead patient, removes his stethoscope from his ears, and hooks it around his neck. 

While he stared at the moths circling the carnival lights, he remembered something his wife said: He wants to leave the carnival and go back to being a con artist. There it was, as plain as anything. Blackjack the con artist had conned his wife. The carney bastard probably thought he could make some money out of the deal and leave Clara stranded in some bus station.

Archie saw what he had to do. It would be painful. Clara would hate him at first, for exposing her gullibility. But she would eventually see Blackjack for what he was and beg her husband’s forgiveness for jeopardizing their marriage. 

“Clara,” Archie said, “I hate to say this because I know it will make you mad, but don’t you realize that Blackjack’s conning you? You said yourself that he’s a con artist.”  

She was staring straight ahead. Her face was a mask of indifference. Archie waited for the anger to surface, the yelling and flailing.

Clara’s laugh began as a stuttering hum contained within closed lips. Still facing straight ahead, she broke into full voice howling that segued to teary-eyed shrieking. She laughed so hard she was gasping for breath and rocking the seat alarmingly.

Finally, Clara gained control and turned toward Archie shaking her head. “Oh Archie, you think I don’t know that Blackjack’s conning me.” Another wave of laughter ensued during which Archie was afraid the bucking seat would shear those rusty cotter pins in two, casting them down through the spokes and girders. 

Archie was too bewildered to speak.

“Lord Archie,” she said, still trying to catch her breath. “I wanted to be conned. I did everything I could to make Blackjack believe I was the easiest mark he’d ever found.” She was quiet for a moment, until her breathing was steady again. “Hell, maybe I conned him,” she said. “Think about that. I wasn’t going to let that wild son of a bitch get out of this town without me.” 

The funhouse visions flooded Archie’s senses again. This time, Clara was no longer an innocent victim. She deserved whatever abuse her sideshow paramour could throw at her. More than anything, Archie wanted to leap forward in time, to catapult himself past the inconvenience and the shame waiting for him in the coming days and months.

Clara leaned over the back of the seat and waved. “I told Blackjack to stop us up here so I could talk to you without distractions,” she said. “You don’t listen to half of what I say, so I thought this,” she rocked the seat, “would help you focus on what I wanted to tell you.”

Far below, a lever clanked, and the wheel shuddered noisily. Warped music blared from gravelly speakers lashed to the spokes. They jolted forward, rolling from the wheel’s center of balance out toward the periphery of its circumference. No longer over the girders, their seat swayed above the slowly approaching midway.

Archie could see that Clara’s knuckles were white as she squeezed the safety bar. He also noticed a slight tremble in her forearms. She sat like a strapped-in astronaut during liftoff, staring straight ahead, fully committed to the journey she had begun. What she was doing took courage. How Archie resented his wife’s bravery and despised his own cowardice in the face of a life change over which he had no control. 

He turned and looked back toward the top of the wheel. Where he’d once considered that summit a place of danger, he now saw it as a lost refuge. His fear of heights had vanished. Archie now faced a more terrifying prospect – the fear of returning to earth.

 

 

 

About the Author: James Barnett’s short stories are published by The Carolina Quarterly, The Blotter Magazine, The Adirondack Review, and HCE Review. His nonfiction books are published by University Press of Mississippi. His latest nonfiction book, titled Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico, was published in April 2017. He lives in Natchez, Mississippi, with his wife, landscape artist, Sharon Richardson.

The Gin Club

In Sevilla, there is a gin club in the town center. It has a large, glass window facing the street. The window is very clean. It is very clean, and it reveals elegant furniture you might be expected to find in the lobby of a five star hotel. Here, luxurious couches and plush old chairs surround handsome, low tables that are the absolutely perfect height to rest a drink. The low tables have glass tops with wrought iron legs, and old men sit around them and drink gin.

The Gin Club has a small, inconspicuous bar at one end of the room, but people don't sit at the bar. Only rarely is someone ever spotted sitting at the bar. They sit at the tables and waiters in tuxedos take drink orders. They take drink drink orders from the menus on the tables, and they accommodate any drink so long as gin is the primary ingredient. This is a gin club, after all, facing the street in one of Spain's most beautiful cities, not far from the largest Cathedral in the world. 

The old men went to The Gin Club each Monday. They put on fine dress clothes and showed up faithfully, rain or shine, in every season of the year. Weather might have forced them to wear a top coat or a newsboy cap from time to time, but they never sacrificed their dress code for the elements. Their dress code was their calling card, and it was important to them to live up to the standard they had set for themselves and for one another.  Their loyalty to dignity through style was uncompromising.  

Each of the old men liked to walk.  In Spain, this is very common.  Old men go for walks.  They go for walks every day.  They leave their small apartments, dressed to the nines, and take to the streets to stroll at their own pace.  The stroll, sometimes with one arm behind their backs, the other perhaps holding a cane, as they walk down the boulevards beneath the old trees, in the shadows of the city.  They frequently wear neckties, and you will never see them wearing a shirt without buttons.  Theirs is not so much a quest for dignity, but rather an emphatic statement for having already achieved it.  They drip in real class that has less to do with money than masculinity, and there is an unmistakable air about the old men in Spain that can only be classified as regal. It's inspiring and humbling, and the old men who met at The Gin Club each week embodied this ethos to the core. 

Once the men entered The Gin Club, they were received at the door by Gerard, the man who took their coats and scarves.  Gerard made sure the coats and scarves were secure, hanging them up carefully in the coat room in the back, while the old men made their way to their table.  They liked to sit at the table on the back wall away from the large window but facing it.  This provided them with the opportunity to see the street scene, but it also kept them relatively well cloaked, at the far end of the room, set against the dark, cherrywood walls of The Gin Club. That was just how they liked it.  They liked to come to The Gin Club on Monday mornings and sit in the back of the room and drink gin.  Most people don't drink gin in the morning.  But old men, dressed impeccably, sitting together on plush sofas and chairs, can certainly drink gin in the morning.  They can drink gin in the morning, in the company of friends and easy conversation, with the quickening world outside and their youth little more than a distant memory.

Francisco lived the furthest from The Gin Club.  He had moved out of the center of town some years ago, and he traveled in to the center by train.  The train was very good in Sevilla, and he liked to take the train on Mondays.  His wife worried that he might slip and fall getting off the train, but he told her not to worry.  Francisco always told her not to worry and she always worried.  She always worried, like she had from the day they were married to the time they became parents until their son left the house and on and on.  She would always worry, and Francisco would always tell her not to.  

Once Francisco stepped off the train in Sevilla, he could feel the pulse of the city.  Sevilla was tranquil and beautiful, but it was also vibrant.  Although it was an old city, it afforded itself a youthful vibe, and Francisco could feel this.  It reminded him of his youth, and he liked to see the young people moving freely with unencumbered limbs and laughing as if they would always be young.  They lacked a complete awareness of what it would be like to age, and Francisco thought this was good.  This unawareness allowed them to be young without fear of growing old, without contemplation of its constraints, and without the inevitable sadness that accompanies aging.  He liked to see people without that sadness.  

Unfortunately, Francisco had known sadness for many years. He been sad for a long time.  He had been sad since the day their son died in a car accident. He was their only child, and he was a beacon of light.  It would never disappear, the hole, the sadness, and he didn't want it to. It was just there, like a hundred ton weight on his soul--never to be removed. People often asked him how he dealt with the loss. How did he and his wife go on? "You don't" said Francisco. "You don't ever go on. Not really. Not the same. You just pretend to go on because there is no other choice." Every Monday morning Francisco went to The Gin Club, and he didn't ever talk about his son.  

Sergio was ageless, or so it seemed.  Now in his 80's, he remained dashingly handsome.  He still possessed a full head of hair, now silver, that he slicked back like Al Pacino or Anthony Quinn.  He grew his hair longer than men his age were usually able to get away with, and the silver locks stood out against his bronze skin.  He could often been seen driving through town in his old Alfa Romeo, the top down, sunglasses fastened carefully, with his long hair flowing behind.  If there were any doubts that a man could age with style, Sergio quickly put them to rest.

He stayed in remarkable shape too--frequenting the gym daily and going on long bike rides outside the city center. Unlike Francisco, Sergio lived right in the heart of the city.  He had a small villa in the country, but he rarely spent any time there anymore.  After all, he was alone and he didn't like to feel lonely. He liked his small flat near the Alcazar.  It was on the second floor, above the street level, but still only one flight of stairs for him to climb.  The flat had a small kitchen, a sitting room, exceptional light, and a modest balcony that looked out at the glorious old city. When Sergio returned home, he liked to sit out on the balcony and watch the young people moving towards the night, towards their dreams, towards whatever future awaited them.  He liked to look at the people and he liked to move among them.

Sergio was one of those men that never married.  He was built for bachelorhood.  And unlike some friends of his who were now married for the second (or fourth) time, he knew it.  The catholic church might have frowned upon him slightly, he surmised, but not nearly as much as those who were sworn to each other before god only to divorce some years later.  That was a much greater sin, he imagined, than living alone, dating women half his age, and having multiple lovers throughout his lifetime.  Sergio was who he professed to be, and he made it a point never to make promises he couldn't keep.  If a woman stayed over on Sunday night, he let her know he would be leaving in the morning.  He was not married, and he had no children, but he was loyal to Mondays and meeting his friends at The Gin Club.  Sergio was not a man who liked to be confined by commitments, but he was fiercely loyal to the ones he had made. And if he went so far as to make a commitment, it would surely be kept.

Manuel wasn't born in Sevilla.  He was from the north, and he grew up in Pamplona--home to the San Fermin Festival each year, Cafe Iruna, and the ghost of Ernest Hemingway.  The north was different, and it had been his home for many years until he met a woman on holiday in Mallorca.  She was a vision, the kind of woman who needn't speak to say much.  She communicated primarily with her eyes and her smile. Her gaze was more than enough to disarm him, and their romance moved quickly.  She grew up in the south, in Sevilla.  Her parents lived in Sevilla and so did her two sisters and her three brothers.  It was decided that Manuel too would live in Sevilla, that they would live in Sevilla, and that they would raise their family in Sevilla. From the day they met, Manuel was certain this was his destiny.  He had now lived in Sevilla for more than fifty years.  

Sometimes, when the summer months arrived, Manuel dreamed of Pamplona, if only for a few days.  He thought of the people from around the world who descended on his home and celebrated it.  He thought of the streets he played on as a child, and he dreamed of watching the bulls tear through the narrow streets with unimaginable, unstoppable force.  They ran with such reckless abandon, unaware of their age, their mortality, and, of course, their fate.  Manuel loved this about the bulls.  There were times he wanted to tell them of what awaited them, but he didn't dare.  They were perfectly savage and brave, unlike men, and he loved this about them.

Their life in Sevilla began with a sweeping, magical quality that seemed to compliment their courtship.  Angelina and Manuel had six children, four girls and 2 sons, and they raised them in the Andalusian capital.  Her brothers and sisters had children, and their family grew large and strong.  

When Manuel thought about these days when their children were young, it didn't seem real.  He wasn't sure it had ever happened.  And he had to pull out old photos to confirm the accuracy of memories which seemed to vanish like a dream.  Most everything had vanished since she died unexpectedly.  The only saving grace was that it was quick, but she took everything with her.  That hypnotic gaze, that first captured Manuel, left the world with his memories, his dreams, and ultimately...his heart. 

That was now thirty years ago, and he had walked through the past three decades in something of a hypnotic fog, reaching, searching for remnants of Angelina throughout the city of her birth. He had thought about leaving and returning to the north, but his children and his grandchildren were in Sevilla.  He wanted to be close to them, and he wanted to honor Angelina.  The best way he could do that was through his loyalty to Sevilla and his undying love to everything she held dear.  He took walks to Plaza de Espana, where he had proposed, and he went to the Cathedral to pray multiple times a week.  He wasn't religious, but he still went.  He would sit down in the pews, enveloped by the massive building, and pray--to God. She had prayed to God when he did not believe.  She had prayed to no avail and now he would to.  He would sit there by himself and pray multiple times a week.  But, on Mondays, he always went to The Gin Club.

Augustin lived a charmed life.  He and his wife had been married for fifty years.  They were healthy, and they had two children and five grandchildren.  Their children were fine people, and they lived close by.  They lived close by and Manuel and his wife saw them often.  They also had a number of friends and were a well-known couple around town.  Augustin had been a successful business owner in Sevilla, and they had enough money to live out their lives very comfortably.  By any measure, life had been good to them.  

Augustin couldn't complain, but everyone has disappointments.  Nobody can go through this world unscathed, and Augustine was no different.  Despite the number of things that had gone well for him in his adult life, he lived the entirety of it with the knowledge that his own parents had died young and that they never had the opportunity to meet Augustin's wife and his children.  They hadn't lived long enough to see Augustin become a success in business, and they had missed the vast majority of his life in general.  This was a huge disappointment for Augustin, and he could never make peace with it. Time did nothing to heal this wound.  He was eventually able to accept that this was reality, but he could never really accept that this reality was acceptable. It was cruel and savage and sat there over his entire life like a gaping void that only seemed to widen with the years.

Each Monday morning, he got up and moved his way to the dresser to select the clothes he would wear to The Gin Club.  He could feel his wife watching him, as she always did, while he selected the shirt he would be wearing that day.  He wasn't known for his style, but he had listened to his wife for many years and had become better at putting an outfit together.  He looked forward to this, and each Monday he tried to do something just a little different with the clothes he wore.  There were many things about his life (most good) that he could not change, particularly at his age.  But his clothes could be altered, shifted, and ultimately born again.  This made Augustin feel like a new man, not a young man perhaps, but a new one, still capable of surprising people when so much of life seemed scripted and determined at this point.  Once he had dressed for the day, he ate a small breakfast at home, just enough to coat the lining of his stomach, and walked out the door to catch a bus to The Gin Club.  

On Monday mornings, The Gin Club was empty.  In fact, when it first opened, the owner hadn't even considered extending the hours to the morning.  Gin was to be consumed in the evenings, after the sun had been lowered and the sky grew dark.  An argument could have been made that a nice Gin and Tonic was also appropriate in the afternoon, a refreshing cocktail combatant against steamy, Andalusian sun.  But morning?  That was a stretch, and it wasn't until the old men approached Teo that he even considered it.

Teo (short for Mateo) was a middle aged man, who still looked young.  He was in his early forties but looked as if he was a decade younger.  He had a full head of hair without a single streak of grey, and his toned, tan skin might have made him out to be a surfer if he didn't wear a business suit so well.  But he always wore a business suit, the finest business suits, complete with a handkerchief and cufflinks--the little things that added a touch of class to an outfit.  The old men noticed this.  They noticed the little things, and they noticed that most men Teo's age weren't in touch with them.  Young men didn't care about the details, they thought.  They couldn't be bothered by the small touches, the finishing touches, the extra mile.  But Teo was different.  He was young and modern, but he was a throwback, an example of days gone by, and he never missed an opportunity to tip his cap to the past.  The old men loved this about him.

"Teo" Sergio called out to him one evening.  "The boys and I were thinking. Would you ever consider opening The Gin Club in the morning?"

Teo looked at Sergio and the other old men.  He was surprised, but he thought about the question carefully.  The men could tell he was giving it his full consideration.  

"Well....." he said.  "I am not really sure that it would be profitable, that we'd be able to attract customers.  I am open to anything, but we cannot survive without customers."

The men looked at each other for a moment.  This wasn't their first rodeo, and they had discussed things beforehand.  It had been easy to predict that Teo might meet their question with some resistance, but they had also predicted correctly that he would be open to the possibilities.

"We understand Teo" said Manuel.  "Would you consider opening in the morning just one day a week.  The four of us will commit to being here, and we will order 4 drinks apiece." 

"And we will cover the cost of Gerard, the bartender, and any additional staff for the entire time" added Augustin.  "You will just need to cover the cost of the electricity along with your time Teo." 16 drinks of your finest gin should suffice."

Teo nodded, impressed.  He nodded again, and he thought about the proposal.  Monday mornings were usually spent at home with his wife, following the weekend, after the children went to school.  He would have to discuss this with her, but he liked the old men.  He liked the old men very much, and he wanted to be able to open The Gin Club for them, just for them, on Monday mornings at the start of the week.

And so this was how Monday mornings came to be the time the four men met each week.  When your are old, its just the opposite of being young when it comes to your schedule and the days of the week. Predictably, week days are often slow with little to do, and old men must work exceptionally hard to remain busy.  Weekends are just the opposite--drenched in activities with children and grandkids--or women in Sergio's case.  It was both rewarding and exhausting.  The men enjoyed the rewards, but they were tired.  By Monday morning, they were ready to relax, and beginning the week with gin, while the young people moved steadily past the window on their way to work, was the perfect way to do this.  They would often arrive only to collapse into the plush upholstery. Teo would always come over to say hello with the same words each week.  "Tough weekend, gentlemen?" he would ask.  

"Yes" said Sergio emphatically.  "Didn't you see Sevilla play on Saturday?"

Sevilla's futbol team was both an inspiration and a constant source of frustration.  They were good, very good, and they had won the Europa League multiple times in recent years.  But they were still inferior to Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid.  They were good enough to come tantalizingly close to challenging for trophies in Spain without quite being able to to deliver.  This past weekend they had suffered a tough defeat at the hands of Valencia.  Sevilla FC was a good club who constantly lived in a special purgatory reserved for the almosts, what ifs, and it could've beens.  

"We need more talent up front" said Francisco. "We won't compete with the best if our side is filled with castoffs from other clubs." 

"It is true" reiterated Manuel.  " A team of mercenaries will never get the best of Barcelona. We must build through the academy and manage to keep the best young players."

"Like Sergio Ramos" chimed in Augustin.  "What I wouldn't give to have had him anchoring the back line all these years." 

"Gentlemen" Sergio requested their attention. "You are living in a "fantasia" as these things will never happen.  Each week, we come here and discuss the team, but we will never be the equal of Madrid or Barcelona. On a given day, we may compete with them.  On a given day, we may beat them, but we will never be their equal.  We are Sevilla, beautiful Sevilla, with a glory all our own. Why do we need to be anything else but that?

"Vale, Sergio" Francisco acquiesced.  "Vale. How old is she? Please tell us.  Each week, you come in her walking on air after parking your sports car with your hair slicked back and not a care in the world about the shoddy defense Sevilla has played during the weekend. Please. How old is she this time? You must tell us."

"If you must know," Sergio remarked in dignified fashion " she is 48 years old.  So you can't make the argument in this case that I am not thinking straight or that my judgement is clouded or my vision is not true."

"Need I remind you that you are 81 years old Sergio?" said Manuel calmly.  "She may not be 28, but she is, after all, still thirty-three years your junior."

The other men laughed.  They laughed in the quiet room, on the plush couches with the taste of gin in their mouths.  It was good for them to laugh and they came here to laugh.  After all, life was hard, even for those who lived the most charmed lives.  They came here to detach from those parts, to forget, perhaps not to drown their sorrows in a glass, but, at the very least, to disappear in a sea of lighthearted humor, bad jokes and gentle teasing for a few hours.

But Sergio was not laughing.  This time he was serious about Sevilla and about the woman he was with the night before.  

"I do not know what my age is" he said with a straight face.  "And I don't wish to be reminded of it.  Have you heard that saying 'how old would you be if you did not know how old you were? It is a very true statement, and I do not feel as if I am very old.  Moreover, I won't pretend to be, and I see no point in accelerating a race to a finish finish line where only a grave awaits."

"But we are old" remarked Augustin.  "We are old men who have been around for many years.  That is why we are here, at The Gin Club, on a Monday morning, because we are old.  We are here because we are old men and old friends who have been around long enough to see the world run by men who are much younger than us." 

Sergio didn't say a word.  He just looked out, past his friends, towards the big window and the street outside.  He looked out at the young people walking past on their way to work.  He looked out, past the years and disappointments and the coat room  which held their belongings.  He enjoyed coming to these weekly gatherings because they were lighthearted and breezy.  The old men were friends, old friends, and they usually shared quite a few laughs and generally kept the world at bay, kept life, real life, at a distance where none of them could really see it unless they were looking.  The old men liked this, for a few hours.  They liked to talk futbol.  They liked to think about what Sevilla's team needed to compete for La Liga.  It mattered very little if this was a "fantasia" so long as they could talk about it, dissect it, and dream of things that would never happen.  Furthermore, futbol made for safe conversation that was the perfect companion to gin in the morning.  

The old men had known each other long enough that there were no secrets.  They had witnessed births and baptisms and had buried more family members than they cared to recall.  Each was keenly aware of the other's great disappointments, their loses, and they understood that there were some things in life you never come back from.  You may go on, but you never come back.  

Each man understood this, and they made sure never to discuss any of these things on Mondays. On occasion, they might have confided in one another in private, but Mondays were sacred. Regardless of how much weight they were carrying, the banter on Monday mornings was meant to offload, to escape, and generally to isolate the old men from the hard truths of reality--if only for a moment.  Gin was merely the coating that lined the stomach and, more importantly, the heart before it would once again process the day, the week, and whatever years they had ahead.  

The old men were very committed to this approach, which is why it was so out of character that Sergio broke rank that Monday morning.  He was always good natured about the jokes which frequently centered around the age of the women he dated.  In some ways, he wore it as a badge of honor, and he certainly didn't shy away from it.  He expected it, accepted it, and it was unlike him to become so defensive.  Nothing ever seemed to strike a raw nerve with him.  Nothing stuck, and Sergio might have looked like a pretty boy, but he was like teflon.  He was tough as nails, and this was one of the things his friends admired about him.

As soon as Teo noticed the old men were nearly done with the first round, he walked over to the table and asked them what were they going to go with next.  

"Puerto de India fresas gin and tonic, please Teo" said Manuel.  This was a local gin that had recently become popular.  On the surface, it could have appeared less masculine--with a sweeter taste and a pink hue.  However, the gin was from Sevilla.  It was from Sevilla, a city draped in warm colors, and the men liked to drink Puerto de Indias. They took pride in it, and fruit seemed to go along well with breakfast anyway.

"Very well" said Teo, noticing that the men were unusually quiet this morning.  He had come by the table in the wake of Sergio's reaction and sensed the quiet tension among the men.  "Can I get you anything else?" he inquired politely but unobtrusively.

"No, thank you Teo" said Sergio. "That's all. Todo bien."

The men continued to drink their gin.  They drank their gin just as they always did, a little quieter this morning, but still drinking.  Truth be told, each man usually took his drink with two personas, caught between two worlds, no matter how hard they tried.  Francisco hoisted a silent toast to his late son, and Manuel acknowledged his sweet wife when he pulled the glass to his lips.  Augustin made sure to tip his cap to his dad, the man who had gone far too soon, who liked to take a drink of gin at the end of the day.  The old men never talked about these silent acknowledgements, but they were there.  The unspoken presence of the dead always are.  All except Sergio, who toasted to life, to love, to the many women he had been with, and to the endless spanish roads in the countryside that caressed his alfa romeo.  He toasted Sevilla and the futbol team, eating grapes to ring in the New Year at Plaza Nueva, and he toasted the splendor of Andalusia bathed in olives and now gin.  

Although Sergio may not have toasted his own existence, he always made a silent toast to his friends, to their incredible resolve, and to their ability to come here each week and get together.  He was grateful that it was important to them, that they worked to conceal their pain for a few hours, and that they greeted him with a warm embrace.  It was a pact they had made, and the old men honored it.  They honored it, and they honored Sergio.  He was their friend, their friend for so many years, and they knew that he wasn't nearly as wounded as they were. Sergio knew it too, of course, and he loved them for never letting on when he was well aware that they knew.

Earlier in the morning, Sergio had woken up in his small apartment.  Anne had stayed over the night before, and he watched her sleep in his bed, with the sheets furled around her and the morning light cascading through the window and catching the length of her body, her back exposed with light brown hair falling around her shoulders.  She was lovely, perfectly lovely, and he liked Anne. He liked Anne very much, and he didn't want her to leave in the morning.  Moreover, he didn't want to leave her, not even on Monday, with his friends waiting to meet him at The Gin Club.  

Sergio had been seeing Anne for a few months.  She was divorced, with two kids in their twenties, and she had moved to Spain after living in the UK for the better part of her life.  She was independently wealthy, having inherited a fortune from her father's textile business, and she didn't need a man in order to survive.  She wasn't looking for one either when she ran into Sergio and his smooth bravado while shopping for vegetables at the market.  He asked her to dinner and the relationship grew from there.

The night before was the first time Anne had really asked Sergio about his family.  

"So you never married?" she said.

"No," said Sergio. "I never saw the point.  So many restrictions.  So many headaches.  So many that end in divorce."

"With that attitude" remarked  Anne, "I can see why. You certainly seem to have had your mind made up."

"I am not sure if my mind was made up so much as there was never anyone who seemed to be able to change it," he said.  "Deep down, I think I might have been more open than I projected, but it never happened." 

"So no siblings?  No wives?  No kids?" said Anne.  "All these years. That is a long time to go without."Sergio thought carefully about Anne's remark.  It was a long time, and he had been alone.  He had always been alone.  

"I suppose it is," said Sergio. "It is a long time. This is how I have lived my life."

"Is it lonely?" asked Anne.  "Living with nobody in your life.  Do you feel lonely?"

"At times," said Sergio. "At times, loneliness is inescapable.  Other times, it brings solace, comfort, and tranquility."

"I think it is sad" said Anne emphatically.  "I think it is the saddest thing I have ever heard."

"Nobody should feel sad for me," said Sergio.  "I made my own choices, and I live with them.  In a sense, I live by them.  There can be no real sadness when you have had the good fortune of being able to make your own choices.  Regret possibly, but not sadness."

"Well, I think it is sad," said Anne.  "Impossibly, terribly sad."  

Sergio sat there, looking at Anne, trying to decipher the look on her face, the absolute strangeness she felt at the life he had led. They were outside, under a warm light, at a cafe near the center.  Although it was Sunday evening, a few people were still out on the streets, walking under the pale moon.  Sergio looked beyond Anne, just over her left shoulder, and into the blackness of the night. He looked farther and farther until his vision was inhaled by the dark sky.

"I watched my friends suffer" remarked Sergio painfully.  "Suffer a lot.  It wasn't easy. Their boats took on a lot of water over their lifetimes, and they lost a lot.  They lost big, and they never recovered.  I never wanted to suffer losses like that."

Anne sat there quietly, focused intently on each word he was saying.

"At times, it seemed like a cruel joke" he went on.  "Their lives gave them so much joy, only to strip it away so savagely, to take it away so unapologetically, leaving scars behind that would never, could never, heal.  I wasn't willing to give as much or go as far.  I played some hands, but I always knew when to fold.  I understood just how to escape before the money was gone. I have spent my life employing that strategy.  It worked for me, and I never questioned it."

"Do you not have a soul, Sergio?" asked Anne. "And if so, what has nourished it?"

"I have a soul, like anyone else, but am not sure it has ever been nourished, truly nourished, at least in the sense you suggest" said Sergio.  "But it has been comforted and it has soared on the wings of many nights spent with beautiful women, the laughter of friends, and the adventure of new horizons, the next horizon, whatever exists just over the next rise.  The promise of what comes next, what might come next, has provided meaning and a sense of hope--if not a genuine purpose." 

A young couple sped by on a moto.  The woman was on the back, wearing a pink helmet with her arms wrapped tightly around the man driving and her head turned and pressed against the back of his black, leather jacket. Both Anne and Sergio watched them carefully.  They were young, and they rode with a fearlessness, an abandon, that was akin to youth.  Their moto throttled between the old buildings, her golden hair flowing out from beneath the helmet as he leaned left and right navigating the corridors.    

"You are happy with this life you have chosen?" asked Anne.

"Until recently," said Sergio.  "I always thought I was happy with it until recently.  Now I am having some doubts."

"You are an old man, Sergio" said Anne. "You can't be capable of learning new tricks at this stage."

Sergio hesitated.  He wasn't sure he could articulate his feelings with the eloquence required, and he wanted to get the words right.  

"Each Monday, as you know, I meet my friends at The Gin Club.  We have known each other for many years, and it is my favorite day of the week.  We never talk about anything painful or serious.  The conversation is purposefully light, and we might discuss futbol or travel or gin or our favorite movies or the best flamenco guitarists.  Of course, we reminisce about some of the times we shared in the past.  We sit and laugh and tell lies like all old men, about the good old days when we were young men, capable of doing the things that young men do.  But the weight is always there, down deep, and I can feel it each time we meet, almost as if it is gaining ground."

"The weight?" said Anne. "What do you mean?"

"The weight of their experiences. The richness. The weight of life's loves and life's losses.  As I said, we have an unspoken rule never to talk about these things, and they wouldn't dare.  But they don't have to talk about them in public in order for the weight to be felt.  We aren't the poker players we once were, and the spectacular pressure builds each week.

"How do you all manage this?" asked Anne, captivated now, and less judgmental.  

Sergio paused.  He took a moment to take a sip of his drink, place it back on the table, and lean in closer.  He was now looking at Ann, almost looking in to Ann, and she could feel the care with which he was preparing to chose his words.  

"Usually, the conversations will be shifted to me.  I am the one with the young girlfriends, the sports car, and my life makes it easy to illicit a laugh or bring the decibel level down.  As our conversation disappears into my life's travails, they feign envy, but I know that's not really the case. They want me to feel good, to feel fortunate, and to feel their feigned desire to live vicariously through me.  All I feel is their pity, like your sadness, and I have never wanted their pity."

They sat in silence for many minutes before Anne decided to speak.  "Why don't you mention this to them."

"Because...they are my friends, my dear friends. It's almost a brotherhood, and being the one who can infuse the conversation with humor, even at my own expense, is an easy price to pay in order to ease the pain, their long suffering pain that subsides gently, slightly, temporarily in the wake of my escapades.  Even their pity arrives with its own justification for the pain they feel, the lives they have led, and the terrible losses they have endured.  I've simply never had enough, felt enough, or cared enough to be truly vulnerable, susceptible to the possibility of a great loss." 

Anne didn't say a word.  She just kept looking at Sergio, and she made sure not to look at him with sadness.  In some way, she felt admiration, as what could easily be construed as selfish behavior, in some odd, twisted way, now seemed noble and generous.  Sergio looked down slightly.  He took out a cigarette, lit it, and didn't say a word. They sat at the outdoor table, and he crossed one leg stylishly over the other.  They just sat, for what seemed like hours but was likely only minutes, until Sergio paid the bill, stood up, and offered Anne his arm.  The walked home to his apartment, past the Alcazar, in the warm glow of the lights in Sevilla.

When they got home, Sergio poured each of them a drink, and he put on his favorite record.  He stood up, offered his hand, and they danced cheek to cheek, with their bodies close until they went to bed. They went to bed in each another's arms until the sun rose over the great cathedral in Sevilla.  Sergio woke up in the morning to go to The Gin Club while she slept.  He couldn't be late, and he exited the apartment quietly, with the beautiful curve of her back once again revealed and her hair falling around her shoulders.

The old men sat around the table.  They sat around the table and drank gin and didn't talk anymore about Sevilla's futbol team.  The sat on the plush couches and chairs. They sat together and didn't say a word.  They sat while Teo went to bring them the check. It was nearly the middle of the day.  The sun was high in the sky and they had consumed gin in the morning, in beautiful Sevilla, near the end of their lives that had been so long.  They were together, but each man was left alone with his thoughts.

Sergio thought about Anne. He thought about her and her bewildered look the night before and her light brown hair and her exposed back and her probing questions.  He thought about her in his apartment.  He liked to think about her in his apartment, and he hoped she would still be there when he returned home.

"I have met someone," he announced to his friends for the first time in all their Mondays at The Gin Club. "I have met someone" he repeated. "Her name is Anne."

 

 

About Author David Joseph: David Joseph's writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Doubletake Magazine, Rattle, and The London Magazine. A recipient of The John Henry Hobart Fellowship for Ethics and Social Justice, he spent twenty years as an educator and nonprofit executive in Los Angeles. A graduate of Hobart College and The University of Southern California's graduate writing program, he has taught at Pepperdine University and Harvard University. He currently lives in San Roque, Spain with his wife Karen and his sons Jackson and Cassius. 

Thick Accents

by J.E. Beville

These lines run off center
Changing the lion-hearted into
A satire called Metacomet's war
In which first was the winner
And the lasting legacy upside down.
Let us take it from there.
Schrodinger's cat is not even
Inside the box and black holes
Break the law of conservation
Birth days are death days,
Pain is love and joy is plastic
It's not from scratch, there
Is a kernel of thetic but
As a branch on a tree in
Carpa topanga where energy can
Never defeat our wildest ideas.
If we ever leave these climbs
All that honey to bees.

Kim Philby

     Superior Court Judge Patrick William O’Neill jogged down Painted Cave Road with his beloved German Shepherd Kim Philby trotting along beside. The narrow road serpentined, challenging drivers and terrifying their hapless passengers with its quick, tight turns and steep drop-offs. Great granite slabs thrust up its edges and hung down slopes toward Santa Barbara. Manzanita, Sagebrush, Sage, Chamise, Bay Laurel, and the occasional Yucca and Prickly Pear cactus dotted the arid landscape. 

     O’Neill stopped a mile down at his usual turnaround spot, jogged in place, and sat on a boulder. Kim Philby was panting but eager as always, his eyes alert, prick ears up. O’Neill reached down, scratched his head, and a fingertip sensed the irregularity of a fresh hard tick in his coarse brown coat. He grasped it between index finger and thumb, twisted it out, set it on a rock, and crushed it with his foot, leaving behind a dime sized red splotch. 

     Kim Philby gazed worshipfully at O’Neill, a lean and fit man of sixty, clean-shaven with silvery white hair and clear blue eyes. 

     The view was fine, O’Neill thought. Friends, co-workers, and relatives had all told him it was nuts to live up here, what with wild fires, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and coyotes, but they were wrong. All of Santa Barbara lay below, as far south as Ventura and, beyond the curving coastline, the pellucid blue Pacific Ocean and upstart Channel Islands. It was an awesome place to live despite the hazards.

     He checked his watch. They would be along soon now, and it was time to head back up the hill. 

     He stood and stretched. 

     Kim Philby’s ears perked and his eyes blazed. 

     O’Neill took a few deep breaths and then continued his jog, slowly at first, and then quickening his rhythmic pace, heading toward the house on the summit where he lived with his wife and Kim Philby. A house with, among other things, a tripod-mounted Celestron 1000-millimeter telescope good for observing wildlife and surveying the neighborhood. From his hilltop aerie, he had spotted incipient fires, burglaries in progress, and, most recently, a possible clandestine drug laboratory; the next hour would reveal the species of his latest prey.

     Sun rising above his right shoulder, O’Neill jogged steadily uphill, retracing his earlier downhill course. Kim Philby floated effortlessly beside him, perfectly in tune, breathing with clocklike cadence. The road pitch leveled out as they approached O’Neill’s midpoint landmark, a row of four rural mailboxes atop a stone wall at roadside surrounded by a patch of white-flowering Toyon. 

     Powerful diesels whined in the distance as they climbed their way up the curlicue road, steadily getting closer. That would be them, O’Neill thought. Right on time.

     He jogged past the mailboxes, stopped a hundred feet beyond, turned for a look back, and waited.

     And waited. It was like marking time before the first pitch in a championship baseball game. He felt a tinge of pleasure, as if placing a bet, for he had something riding on the outcome of this particular game. His bet was that the sheriff’s party would find some incriminating prize inside that little house beside the road. If they did, he’d win; if not, he’d lose face. 

     Flashing lights appeared a quarter mile away as they rounded a bend and came out onto the straights. The lights grew brighter and their conveyances larger, and soon he could make out raiding party elements. 

     Two sheriff’s cruisers led the way, followed by two white vans and two trailing cruisers. They caravan grew louder and larger, sunlight glinting off windshields and polished chrome, and then gradually slowed until all its vehicles came to a stop on the road alongside the little house. Loud idling diesels and crackling sheriff’s radios pestered the otherwise sweet and silent mountaintop air. 

     A few seconds passed, and then a mass of sheriff’s deputies rushed from the cruisers and fanned out along the road. Six helmeted men in black uniforms carrying M4 carbines disembarked from the front van. A second group left the rear van. Four men in the assault team slung a steel battering ram between them, double-timed to the porch, and swung the ram into the front door, which collapsed inward in two strokes.

 

 

About the Author: Henry Simpson is the author of several novels, two short story collections, book reviews, and occasional pieces in literary journals. His most recent novel is Golden Girl (Newgame, 2017). He holds a Ph.D from UCSB.

POEM FOR KATIE, QUEEN OF OHIO #71

All men are lobbyists.
Don’t hire any of them.
Be an army with actual
swagger. Be confident
enough to listen to anyone
& ignore almost everyone.
Make it all women.
I find no fault in naming
my gender a danger
& a novelty. I should
be given no extra con-
sideration. Not me.

 

 

About the Author: Darren C. Demaree is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently “A Fire Without Light” (2017, Nixes Mate Books). His eighth collection “Two Towns Over” was recently selected the winner of the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and is due out March 2018. He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.