Interview by Cynthia Hawkins For Prick of the Spindle, Vol. 6.2, June 2012 My introduction to Allan Peterson came with a pair of poems published in Prick of the Spindle, Volume 5.2. “Memory comes with its own gauze curtains and hazy furniture,” Peterson writes in […]
Month: June 2012
Drama, Vol. 6.2, June 2012 CHARACTERS: OSIP MANDELSTAM – poet NADIA MANDELSTAM – wife of Osip ANNA AKHMATOVA – poet, married to Nikolay Gumilev, a fellow poet and political prisoner in the Lubyanka Prison OLD LADY JOSEF STALIN (nee’ Osip Jughashvili)- despot ZENKEVICH – one-time […]
Drama, Vol. 6.2, June 2012
An Old Woman
A Park. The play opens with a woman in her mid-to-late 30s sitting on a bench facing a playground. The playground itself is off stage. A man walks up. He is about her age.
MAN: (He walks up and sits on the bench next to the woman.) Mind if I sit here?
WOMAN: Go ahead.
MAN: Are those girls yours?
WOMAN: Actually, it’s more like I’m theirs.
MAN: They’re beautiful. You’re lucky.
WOMAN: You don’t have to live with them.
MAN: I love these summer mornings. The robins, the kids in the park, all the laughter.
WOMAN: Don’t let the laughter fool you.
MAN: It’s a lovely day, and you’re out here with your young and charming daughters.
WOMAN: More like I’m hostage to these terrors.
MAN: Sounds like you’re a single mom, stressed with raising two exuberant girls. Tell me I’m not right.
WOMAN: I am single. But you have no idea what you’re seeing. I’m sure I do look like a stressed-out mom. What a joke.
MAN: One day you’ll look back on the beauty of raising your children. It’s the most important thing we do in our lives.
WOMAN: That’s funny.
WOMAN: Actually, they’re quite overwhelming.
MAN: How long have you been single?
WOMAN: I’ve always been single.
MAN: Is their father involved in their lives?
WOMAN: I don’t even know who their father is – or even if they have the same father.
MAN: Oh. Hmm. I’m sorry to hear that.
WOMAN: Not as sorry as I am. I have some suspicions about where they came from, but it doesn’t help me sleep at night.
MAN: I don’t quite follow you.
WOMAN: Let’s just say they continue to be a mystery to me.
MAN: They’re so cute. Look at them helping each other on the merry-go-round. The older one’s helping the younger one get up. They must have learned that from you, to take care of each other.
WOMAN: Believe me, they didn’t learn it from me. They’re not really very teachable.
MAN: That’s surprising to hear. Children model off of us. They are watching our every move.
WOMAN: I’ll go along with that.
MAN: And they love us more than we will ever know.
WOMAN: You could see it that way. But like many things in life, the inside is way different from how it seems on the outside.
MAN: That’s funny. How old are they?
WOMAN: Centuries, I think. Hard to tell. They may date back to early Europe.
MAN: You’re a riot.
WOMAN: Do you have any kids?
MAN: I did have.
WOMAN: Did you give them up? You seem too young to have grown-up kids.
MAN: No, they didn’t grow up.
WOMAN: Are they with an ex-wife?
MAN: Nope, they’re not with an ex-wife. There is an ex-wife, though.
WOMAN: They’re just gone?
MAN: Yes. Just gone. Just disappeared one day.
WOMAN: I’m so sorry to hear that.
MAN: Two beautiful little girls, about the age of your girls.
WOMAN: Well, they’re not really my girls.
MAN: Not yours? But I can see the family resemblance.
WOMAN: I’m probably starting to look like them. I’ve been around them so long. But they’re really not mine.
MAN: Are you taking care of them for a friend?
WOMAN: No, I’m theirs, but they’re not mine.
MAN: That sounds like a riddle.
An elderly woman walks up and stands in front of the woman.
OLD WOMAN: What did your daughters do to my dog?
WOMAN: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
OLD WOMAN: They killed my dog.
WOMAN: How could two little girls kill your dog? You must be mistaken.
MAN: (rising to the WOMAN’s defense) Really? That story is truly hard to believe. Just look at them. How could they hurt a dog?
OLD WOMAN: They’re horrible. They killed my precious Buffy with their teeth.
MAN: That’s ridiculous.
OLD WOMAN (pointing at the man): You just watch out. They tore my Buffy apart.
MAN: Please take your troubles elsewhere.
WOMAN: Yes, go away. You can’t hold me responsible.
OLD WOMAN: I’m going to go to the police about this.
The OLD WOMAN exits.
MAN: Wow, that was pretty crazy.
WOMAN: Thanks for helping me.
MAN: My pleasure. That old lady looks like an advanced case of Alzheimer’s.
WOMAN: You don’t know the half of it. What happened to your kids?
MAN: They went missing. About five years ago.
WOMAN: I’m so sorry. That’s terrible.
MAN: My wife was out of town, which of course made me the suspect – the person of interest. Even my wife.
WOMAN: She suspected you?
MAN: I have a divorce to prove it. We were having troubles anyway, which led to greater suspicion from the police. They found out my wife was having an affair. Isn’t that great? The fact that she was having an affair raised the suspicion on me.
WOMAN: That’s horrible.
MAN: Life fell right into a pit of Hell. They’re still watching me. Even lost my job.
WOMAN: How are you making it.
MAN: 401K. My half anyway.
WOMAN: I know that life can sink into Hell.
MAN: It’s tough watching two kids?
WOMAN: These kids, yeah. They’re very demanding. I know they appear lovely, but really they’re quite a chore.
MAN: They need a lot of support?
WOMAN: They suck the blood right out of me.
MAN: I know how depleting kids can be. But, mercy, I sure miss mine. I’d love to have the demands of parenthood back, with all my heart. Are these girls with you all the time?
WOMAN: Yes, 24 hours. For years now. When did your girls go missing?
MAN: As I said, about five years ago.
WOMAN: You might want to ask those two about it.
MAN: What do you mean? What a strange thing to say.
WOMAN: I’m just saying. You don’t have to get upset about it.
MAN: I find that comment offensive.
WOMAN: You know that old lady’s dog? What did she call him, Buffy?
WOMAN: Ask those two about him. Or maybe her. I guess Buffy is a girl dog’s name. Or was. I’ll bet they know what happened to Buffy.
MAN: What an odd thing to say. I can’t believe that.
WOMAN: I couldn’t at first, either. Sometimes you have to see something before you can believe it.
MAN: Why didn’t you stop them?
WOMAN: I didn’t see it with Buffy. Even when I see things like that, it’s not something I can stop.
MAN: They’re just little girls. Watch them play. So innocent, so far from the true horrors of life.
WOMAN: You’re right. It’s the damndest thing.
MAN: So sweet, so young.
WOMAN: They’re not sweet, and they’re not young. Best as I can tell, they go back a couple centuries. Eastern Europe, I think. They still have accents.
MAN: Why didn’t they grow up?
WOMAN: I guess they got turned when they were young, so they stayed young.
MAN: Everything you’re saying sounds crazy.
WOMAN: You’re right. I wish I were crazy. Then, this nightmare will go away. They could take me off and give me meds. I’ve prayed for that for years. At a certain point, the mind gives up and accepts the horror in front of you.
MAN: How long have they been with you?
WOMAN (laughs): Years, many, many years.
MAN: Why didn’t you do something?
WOMAN: (just laughs)
MAN: What does this have to do with my daughters?
WOMAN: I don’t understand these things very well, but you wouldn’t be here talking with me if it didn’t have something to do with these girls in front of us. I know they look charming. That’s part of their magic. But nothing just happens in my life any more. There’s always something dark, weird and twisted. No coincidences with these two around.
MAN: Where do we go from here?
WOMAN: I don’t know. But I’m glad just to have the company. So thank you for sitting down. It gets very lonely.
MAN: They don’t tell you what’s going on? They just control your life?
WOMAN: To them, I’m just the cow.
MAN: How do you live?
WOMAN: They manage to take care of things. When it’s time to go out, I’m their cover. The three of us look pretty normal. They can pass.
MAN: How did you get involved with them?
WOMAN: They just showed up at the park. I thought they were cute. I was coming out of a bad marriage complicated by a miscarriage. Pretty vulnerable to cute little girls. I couldn’t figure out why they were alone. I brought them home thinking I could find their family. They just took over after that.
WOMAN: Ain’t that something? OK. It looks like they’re ready to go home. So we gotta go.
MAN: Just like that?
WOMAN: I can tell when they’re ready to go.
WOMAN: Are you coming?
~ END ~
Fiction, Vol. 6.2, June 2012 A desperate eighteen-year-old will do desperate things. Maybe if it hadn’t been my great grandmother. Maybe if it had been my mother (forty-one and looking pretty good after years of pilates and a little facial work,) or even my grandmother […]
Fiction, Vol. 6.2, June 2012
Running late, I preferred R. T.’s driving to Cynthia’s any day, even when R. T. reeked of bourbon. If Cynthia had to drive us to school, look out. One morning, smelling like cantaloupe and fried ham, puffing a Camel, Cynthia steered the car down Highway 82 going seventy, yelling her face off that the clinic was in the other damn direction and that she was going to be fucked if she was late again. Me and Miles weren’t listening from the backseat where we were playing Two Man Snatch-up.
Our sister Geneva, was back home faking a sore throat that morning so as we caught up to the school bus, Cynthia moved into the passing lane yelling at me. She had just started in on Miles when the car hit an ice patch. People say when you’re in a pickle, everything slows down, but barely a second passed between the time I slapped down that Jack of Clubs and the Malibu butt-ended the side of the bus. The newspaper headline the next day said, School Bus Crashes, No Survivors. That wasn’t true, me and Miles survived.
After the accident, although R. T. always found some reason to snatch me and Geneva (whom he joked were his step-on children) by the arm with those big Coronet playing fingers, he didn’t know what to do when he was angry at his biological son. Then again the accident had messed Miles up. After his second blood transfusion he was mad that he couldn’t wrestle our collie, even madder that he couldn’t go out back to play on the flight deck, although by then the plywood and brick were overgrown with weeds, some as tall as the tree stump he called the flight tower.
One Saturday evening, even though Miles had crashed R. T.’s Camaro, there he was, in the toilet, his arm bandaged, laughing and trying to razor a neat hair line above his moustache, which hadn’t even grown in properly yet. Miles had R. T’s heart murmur and over the years Geneva and I told each other he’d survive to forty, like R. T. had, but that card wasn’t in the pack.
The year Geneva moved into her new condo, she asked me to position Miles’s photograph on a shelf of her wall unit next to Cynthia’s nurse’s aide graduation picture. When I asked, where was R. T.’s Merchant Marine portrait? Geneva just laughed. A few months later, the evening of my gig with the most popular blues band outta Montgomery, I tossed my coronet out the window behind the Super 8 Motel, watched it tumble like an injured airplane until it crashed onto the deck of an overstuffed dumpster.
Fiction, Vol. 6.2, June 2012 We were never the pattern of the snake Fading into the pattern of the leaves, Never the empty clarity one glimpses In water falling, in water spreading itself Into the thin white veil of what is never there, The moment […]
Fiction, Vol. 6.2, June 2012
When Eduardo, Susan, James, and Norma found out they each won $4 million dollars in the Wisconsin State Lottery, they all quit their jobs at the factory except Norma, who stayed on for her full pension. The newspaper photo of them with a giant check was captioned: The Mice That Ran Away with the Cheese.
Eduardo left Veronica, his girlfriend of two years, and went back to Nicaragua to live with his wife, Consuela, and their three children. He was tired of Veronica’s grilled tomato and cheese sandwiches; he missed his wife’s cooking.
Eduardo was ready to leave the American winters behind too; his knees ached so badly when the cold weather rolled in, he could predict when it was going to snow. The long hours at the factory were hard on his body. He crawled under machines and conveyor belts to make repairs when they broke down. He hated the queso the factory made, it smelled of artificiality; and he didn’t like how Mr. Pearson, the head of the plant, was always watching him.
His return to Nicaragua was triumphant. Eduardo hadn’t seen his family in more than a year. He came bearing the best presents he could think of: a pair of diamond earrings for his wife and white Sunday dresses for each of the three girls.
He and Consuela set about building Hacienda Vargas, an estate for their family. They picked out a hillside plot overlooking their village of El Naranjo, and planted red mombin, plantain, and mango trees around the new home. A mamoncillo tree stood beside the doorway to the cocina and the scent of limes filled Consuela’s kitchen, with a view of San Miguel church on the adjacent hill. The church’s hill was taller than theirs, as Consuela intended. She didn’t want the neighbors to think they set themselves above god.
Aside from the fruit trees, Eduardo planted hectares of Arabic coffee as a cash crop. He employed the men from the village who wanted to work, and there were many of them. Before Eduardo brought his lottery money back to Nicaragua, there were few jobs. Now he was the biggest employer in the area.
Eduardo’s ex-girlfriend Veronica called his cell phone and recorded a rambling message about a month after he left. She said she was pregnant. Eduardo called his friend Hector from the factory to find out if it was true, and it was. Eduardo liked Veronica but he had no room in his life for a pregnant American girl and a jealous Nicaraguan wife who wielded razor-sharp knives in her kitchen.
Eduardo asked Hector to pay Victoria a visit, give her a few thousand dollars, and make it clear she wasn’t to contact Eduardo again. She took the money, for the baby she said, but she kept calling and leaving weepy messages. Eduardo refused to speak to her, and after listening to one of her recorded crying jags, he canceled his cell phone. He couldn’t sleep right for weeks. To assuage his guilt, he pledged the profits from the first coffee harvest to build a new schoolhouse – por los ni ños.
Susan was introverted. She worked on the packaging line at the factory, counting the number of bags of cheese that went into a box before it was shipped. She was a plain-looking girl living a simple existence in a trailer just outside of town.
While the lottery changed Susan’s financial situation, it didn’t cure how she uncomfortable she felt around other people. Her friend Katie, who sat next to her on the line, suggested Susan see the hypnotherapist who helped Katie’s mother quit smoking. Katie reasoned if someone could be hypnotized to make them stop doing something, maybe they could also be mesmerized into not being shy.
After seven sessions, Susan was able to hold short conversations with people she didn’t know, but the deeper effects she wanted weren’t manifest. But Susan had an idea. Rather than try to cure her shyness, she asked the therapist to embed a suggestion about an object, something she could focus on while she interacted with people, which might reduce her fear.
The therapist told her it wasn’t part of his standard practice. He thought it wrong to conduct untested experiments with the human subconscious, and said he couldn’t be responsible for adverse reactions. Susan wasn’t deterred; she decided to practice meditation and self-hypnosis to bring about the changes she wanted.
For her meditations, her object of choice was a silver bell her mother had given her on her fifth birthday. It was a harmless object, Susan thought, one she associated with good memories. She sat on a large pillow in the middle of her bedroom floor holding the bell in both hands, envisioning herself traveling the world and meeting new people.
Susan went to Europe and began collecting bells. When she was asked where she traveled, she would tell the story about how she found the bell and why she liked it. All her pictures were of bell shops. Her pictures from France were of churches hung with brass beauties. She admired the bells she found in Germany too, especially a golden one from Berlin.
She sought out the great bell makers of Europe, but it was a dying art. On an island off the coast of Brittany she found a bell man. His house was adorned with two baritones ensconced in a tower; they pealed in the Atlantic breeze. He specialized in replacing cracked cathedral bells and his work hung in Canterbury Cathedral, he said. He was a local character known for his practical jokes and easy disposition.
Susan was smitten the moment they met; and the bell man never met a woman so interested in his art. After a respectable courtship, they decided to get married in the country church on the island. He installed twelve bells in the church tower for their wedding. When they were received by the congregation as husband and wife, the sound of the bells filled Susan’s heart, each clang a living vibration inside her.
James worked at the loading dock in the factory. He was an efficient forklift operator and a nephew of Mr. Pearson, the head of the plant. He moved from suburban Wisconsin, where he felt like an outsider, to New York City. Liberated by his lottery wealth, he acted on his lifelong dream and changed his name to Jamie and underwent a sex change.
Aside from a regimen of daily hormone injections, Jamie took care of herself. She endured hair removal on her face and chest and put long extensions in the hair on her head. She took lessons on how to apply makeup and wore a smoky eye matched with a red lip in the evening and pink lip stain with pale blush during the day. She filled her closets with frilly blouses and tailored pencil skirts showing off her slim hips and muscular legs. The result was striking; she transformed herself into a bona fide woman.
Jamie met Sal, a Wall Street trader, on the beer line at a Giants game and struck up a conversation. They dated a short while, but Sal was so enamored of her that he proposed. She moved into Sal’s condo on Long Island to live near his large Italian family. Sunday mornings they went to Sal’s Catholic church, although Jamie was agnostic. Sal encouraged her to convert.
Sunday afternoons were for the family; Sal and Jamie spent time at Sal’s mother’s house where Sal would watch the football game with his father and Jamie learned how to make the special family recipe for gravy from Sal’s mother. In the late afternoon Sal’s brother Gino would arrive with his wife and their three children and everyone would sit down to the large dinner of soup and fish and pasta that Jamie and Sal’s mother prepared.
Eventually, Jamie told Sal about her past but he misunderstood. Sal said it was natural for a woman to get breast implants. He thought the scars were sexy. Unfortunately, Sal’s misunderstanding also led him to believe he and Jamie would start a family. Jamie told him she was unable to have children, which was true. She suggested they adopt a girl from China, Africa, or the Eastern Bloc, but Sal said if the baby didn’t have Sicilian blood it couldn’t be a part of his family. The baby matter led to many arguments.
As much as she cared for him, Jamie decided to break the engagement off with Sal. While she was with him she realized she submerged her own needs and took on Sal’s unrealistic dreams of the perfect family. She felt like an outsider again; outside the world of Sal’s large Italian family; outside her ability to give him the life he wanted; and outside herself living as a woman transformed from a man, operating in a man’s world.
Norma hadn’t missed a day of work in the seventeen years she worked at the factory as the lead quality tester. She checked every batch personally as a matter of pride. Norma said the Lord gave her the gift of cheese making and she dedicated herself to the task. The head of the plant, Mr. Pearson, awarded her a perfect attendance plaque every year and an extra vacation day.
When Norma retired, her co-workers presented her with a necklace and two gold charms, a tasting spoon, and a wedge of cheese. There were more than a few in the crowd drying their eyes when she blew out the candles on her retirement cake. The cake was nostalgically covered with shredded coconut dyed a familiar shade of orange.
Her retirement coincided with her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary to her husband Duke, a mail carrier. She and Duke splurged on a family trip to Hawaii, including the kids, their spouses, a dozen grandchildren, and Norma and Duke’s terriers, Cheddar and Swiss.
When Norma and Duke passed, they left enough of her lottery winnings for their kids to be comfortable, but not so much they didn’t have to work. Norma and Duke believed their grandkids would be spoiled if they weren’t taught the value of a dollar they earned themselves. They stipulated all monies not bequeathed should be given away.
Their daughter Linda created the Norma and Duke Peterson Foundation, which bestowed scholarships to Wisconsin high school graduates with perfect attendance. Given all the sick days high school kids took, the award wasn’t given every year, which Linda felt was in keeping with her mother’s hard-boiled attitudes about work.
The twelfth recipient of the scholarship went to a brown skinned boy named Edward, who graduated from Lafollette High in Madison. His mother Veronica attended the ceremony with her long time boyfriend Hector, whom everyone assumed was Edward’s father.
Fiction, Vol. 6.2, June 2012 Inspired by the True Life Story of Ramesh Moses Kumar, M.D. If you were to ask me when, exactly, the pain started or how it was, precisely, that I at first failed to notice my urine changing from its usual […]