Pass Without Notice

by

The old man looked young,
even when dying.
Worked hard all his life
and was never quick

to tell anyone
about his cancer,
never quick to settle
his affairs

even after the coughing
left him exhausted night after night,
collapsed in his recliner
with Pat Robertson on the TV.

You might think he would never die
if you saw
the hale greetings at the Lodge
arm-punching and buying drinks.

You never saw how he never wanted
to go home, bought a last round
and slipped away toward the restroom
toward the side exit to pass without notice.

 

This is a photo I took last week of the decrepit Red Apple Rest  in Tuxedo, New York.

 

 

 

In response to the Daily Post’s Layered prompt

They Are Real

by

She sat cradling her mug of tea. From time to time she would lower her face to it, close her eyes and inhale the fragrant steam.

This was the tenth night in a row she had awakened screaming at precisely 2:10 am, the tenth morning after she had lain awake with the visions she would not disclose to me.

“I’m ready to tell you about it.” Her voice was a whisper. I leaned closer. She cringed as though I’d raised a fist.

“Sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay. I’m nervous. These things I keep seeing…”

“They seemed real?”

“No. They are real.”

 

Friday Fictioneers

Postwar

by

In January 1946, Corporal Stuart Dulley was discharged from the United States Marine Corps in which he had served since September 1940. His wounded arm had healed as much as it was going to, which wasn’t much.

Other men at the hospital were aching to get back to something. Wives, jobs, hometowns. Stuart’s parents had died in an auto accident while he was in high school, and the aunt with whom he lived afterward had died of cancer during the war. He had no brothers or sisters, no cousins. The town he had grown up in held no allure. He changed out of his uniform and folded it away into a carton. He had nowhere to send it, so he left it under his bed.

In the Corpus Christi bus station he had purchased a ticket to San Francisco for no particular reason. He climbed aboard the bus as soon as the driver opened the door. The bus was empty, so he had his pick of places to sit. He settled into one of the comfortable seats in the center of the bus.

At his feet was a new valise he had bought at the Corpus Christie Kresge, along with three pairs of underwear and two pairs of socks, a toothbrush and a comb. That was the extent of his belongings.

He wished he had remembered to buy a book. He had never been much of a reader, even in the hospital, but he figured he may as well start. Reading would be a good habit.

 

 

 

Sunday Photo Fiction

My Dinner With Andrei

by

I know you cannot speak. Trust me. This is for the best.

Perhaps you have heard the stories. That I cut their tongues out and ate them, slit them like grain sacks and swallowed their innards like borscht. Or that I was in KGB and went about on the Moscow trains with the organs of my victims in my attache case.

These tales are fabulous, imaginative, even terrifying. I give you the choice to believe them or not. I will neither conform nor deny my alleged reputation.

Your eyes tell me that you wish to know why. This wish is a human failing. We are comforted by cause, yet words are inadequate. An entire world lies beyond language. It is a perverse irony, then, that words are our only tool for the understanding of causes.

Is experience itself a sort of understanding? This question you will soon settle for yourself.

 

What Pegman Saw

Based on a true story.

Is This Sunday?

by

“Where is my coffee?”

“It’s right there in front of you, dear.”

“Ah. Yes. So it is!” He lifted it to his lips and for a moment I could again see what he’d looked like as a little boy. “Oh, this is good. What is it again?”

“It’s coffee, dear. Just as you like it.”

“With plenty of cream and– and–”  He scowled. It was the words that bothered him. He seemed fine with the other things. Faces, names, places. But losing words always upset him.

“Sugar, dear. Plenty of cream and sugar.”

“Sugar. I remember. Yes, sugar.”  He smiled.

 

Friday Fictioneers

 

Excerpt: Ulysses of Sorts

by

Marines in combat on Peleliu. September 1944. The men are watching in all directions, since the Japanese were everywhere.

In honor of all those soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors who are dying in the name of America,  I give you an excerpt from a story about Stuart Dulley,  a young man who joined the Marines in 1940 and got caught up in the hideous machine of war. 

Stuart watched her and decided Navy nurses were all the same. Sexless and deliberately unpleasant, as though being bitchy somehow abetted the healing process. Maybe it did, because the idea of staying in hospital a single second longer than necessary was anathema to Stuart. He wanted out.

He was transferred from Hawaii to San Diego and then to a base hospital on Parris Island, where he heard the familiar Marine Corps cadence called by drill instructors throughout the day. After two months he was sent to an overcrowded rehabilitation center in Corpus Christi where a single orthopedic surgeon oversaw the care of two hundred or so wounded Marines. The Pacific War was hell on limbs, leaving thousands of Marines handless, legless, footless, armless or some combination thereof. Stuart was one of the lucky few who still had all his extremities, though his right arm hung withered and nerveless in a sling.

Stuart, who had joined the Marines before the war had even started, was astounded by the variety of tiny islands that the guys in his ward had invaded. Some, like Iwo Jima and Tarawa, were famous, but others had whimsical names sounded made-up. Guam. Angaur. Eniwetok. Kwajalein.

The days were pleasant enough. The men sat around a screen porch drinking coffee and playing cards, the handless men practicing with their hooks, legless men pushing wheelchairs. Stuart’s own therapy was painful and humiliating. His right arm, never muscular, had been reduced to ridiculous dimensions, the tiny bicep crossed with shiny red scar tissue, the shapes of stitches giving it the appearance of a badly-sewn doll. Every day he joined the other arm cases for morning exercise as they strapped themselves to various machines designed to improve flexibility and range of motion. It was excruciating, but he kept at it. Gradually he got to the point where it was mildly painful. The doctor implied this was probably as good as it was going to get.

Nights were another story. Nights were the worst. Night was when it became abundantly clear that the war was not over and would never be over. Sensations of doom and panic and horror and disgust came back with more force than the actual experience. Nights in the ward were filled with the shouts and sobs and screams of men cornered by nightmares.

Naturally, the men in the ward stayed up as late as they could. They talked and played poker and read by flashlight. Liquor was strictly forbidden, but the men were Marines and combat veterans, so it wasn’t hard to persuade the orderlies to look the other way. Visitors fetched in bottles of whisky, cases of beer. Even so, there was never enough to go around, never enough to guarantee every man who needed it would find oblivion because every man in the ward needed all he could get, every night.

At night the dead would not stay dead.

 

You Should Be Safe For Now

by

He flicked on the light. The room had a musty, disused air about it. Stale air and dust, dull and windowless.

“What is this place?” she asked.

“It used to be a barrel house. Bootleggers would store their whiskey here until they could ship it upriver.” He pointed to a trap door in the floor. “This opens right onto the canal. They’d run a barge under it and load up. I heard the prohibition agents were so busy watching the roads they never thought of the river.”

“The canal runs under the building?”

“Yep.” He went to the tall cabinets along one of the walls, selected a key from his ring and undid the heavy padlock. “There’s enough canned food here for a year. The pump in the corner attached to a reverse-osmosis filter, so you’ll have plenty of water. Chemical toilet in stall there. Magazines and books on that shelf.”

“How long will I have to stay here?”

“The trial is set for the fifth, but I imagine Scalario’s lawyers will string it out as long as possible. A month, maybe. Three at the most.”

She felt the despair rise in her. It must have showed on her face, because he came over and put a hand on her shoulder. “We wouldn’t do this unless it was absolutely necessary. This is the only place I’m sure of. You’ll be safe here.”

He sounded so certain. She she almost believed him.

 

Sunday Photo Fiction

El Murió En La Perla

by

Ramón held his glass aloft. “A toast,” he shouted over the din of the crowd. “To San Sebastián!”

“And his perforated testicles!’ roared Philippe. They clicked glasses and drained the fiery rum in one swallow.

“Another!” Ramón yelled to the barman. All around them the crowd surged shoulder to shoulder, filling the bar and spilling out into the street. Music throbbed through the loudspeakers, the song lost in cacophony. “Who are all these fuckers?” he shouted into Philippe’s ear.

“Revelers!” yelled Philippe. “It’s a fiesta!”

“I think they’re Mexican narcotrafficantes” Ramón shouted. “Look how they’re dressed!” He gestured to the man behind Philippe, a hulking figure in a loud yellow shirt. Philippe turned, catching his glass on the man’s sleeve, drenching him with the dark rum. The man whirled around, face twisted with rage.

“You stupid ass!” he screamed in a Mexican accent, the knife already in his hand.

 

What Pegman Saw

The neighborhood of La Perla in Old San Juan has only recently begun to from a wave of violence. In 2011, the tiny island’s record 1,136 killings put it on par with civil war zones such as the Congo and Sudan in terms of murders per capita.

Waiting

by

In June of 1999 I was traveling back to Portland after visiting my father in Tucson with my three-year-old daughter in tow. We missed a connection and wound up in the Las Vegas Airport. It was my first time in that city, and in the late hour the airport was almost empty

An island of garish casino machines lit up like Christmas with blinking bulbs of blue and red and green blurted noises and snatches of distorted music across the empty carpet. My daughter was sleeping across my lap as only children can. I was pinned into the chrome and vinyl seat.

From the nest of slot machines emerged a young girl. She was faded like a Polaroid left on a dashboard. She didn’t look quite real, as though caught in the act of fading from this world into the next one. Though young, she seemed crushed into early old age.

She sighted as she plopped into a seat,  but there was no relaxation Her furtive eyes kept darting past me toward the bar. She seemed anxious.
I grabbed my notebook and wrote this poem.

las vegas airport
sitting alone
chipped

toes push
out from cheap
shoes
ugly to begin with

rocking back and forth,
she knows how
to baby herself
at least

hair dyed to a fried and final black
thicked eyes to match
puffy with the hour

style, a cruel mistress
jammed her into this dress
tighter every day

red nails click broken rhythm
against the cold chrome arm

eyes dart as  a redeye
spills a glazed and pasty cargo
to stumble toward the slots,
the islands of impossible, bright

glaring hope
in a sea of strangers

 

Written in response to The Daily Post: Waiting

Hanbleceya

by

The old man turned off the truck. The only sound was the Ford’s engine ticking as it cooled.

“Well,” said Cole. “Guess I better get started.”

“Guess you better,” said the old man.

Cole opened the door and stepped onto the rocky ground. The old man got out and came around to stand next to him. He lit a cigarette. They watched the dawn in silence. The sky went from purple to pink to pale blue as the sun crested the hill.

The old man got into the truck. He  started the engine.

“See you in four days,” he said.

 

Friday Fictioneers

A Native American person will undertake Hanbleceya, a vision quest, in an isolated area. In the Lakota tradition, the seeker will go four days without food, water, or contact with another human being.  A successful vision quest will put the seeker in contact with a spirit helper or guide. The vision often comes in the form of an animal, a dream, or a song. This guide’ s presence is often signaled by a visionary experience or contact with an animal. Traditionally, a Wičasa Wakan – Holy Man – will advise the seeker and interpret the vision.