Issue 10.1

10.1

10.1 web coverThe Summer 2016 issue of Forge has arrived!  Pull up a chair and take a look at the first installment of our tenth year.

If you prefer paper to pixels, you can order a hard copy here.

Enjoy!

~Melissa Venables

Uber-editor, Forge 10.1

Forge is an independent endeavor. We do not receive money from any institutional patrons – we are completely reader supported. If you enjoy what you find here, consider buying a hard copy of a journal issue, or submitting a donation by clicking on the button below. Thanks!


CONTENTS of ISSUE 10.1

—PROSE—

Judy Darley: Forest of Dolls

Joseph Eastburn: Rabbit Stew

Brian Howlett: The Secret Life of Statues

George Korolog: White on Green

R Torrence: Bride of Christ

 

—POETRY—

Edward Butscher: Irony | Paranoia | Echoes

Eric Greinke: The Walls | Gypsy | Mickey | The Vagaries | The First Wave | Apollinaire

Eric Greinke and Alison Stone: Little Novels

Anselm Parlatore: #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #11 | #15 | #20 | #24

Simon Perchik: 10 Poems – Summer 2016

 

—VISUAL—

Alex Duensing: Remember when you were born on another world– | Liberty leading its own shadow.

Mark Wyatt: Northwest Territories 1, 1979 | Northwest Territories 2, 1979 | Turkey, 1980 | France, 1980 | NYC, 2015 | Mexico, 2016

VittorioCavalli.com

Forest of Dolls

By Judy Darley

Ella likes to line the dolls up on her grandma’s kitchen countertop. That way, if she lays her cheek against the cold surface, she can pretend she’s in a forest of painted dolls. They stretch all the way to the horizon, casting shadows taller than giants. The smallest, the lone un-openable doll, catches the sunlight and blazes like a birthday candle. If Ella tries very hard she can make it lift into the air – fuelled by solar power and her imagination – and zoom around the ceiling.

Matryoshka dolls, that’s what her grandma tells her they’re called. Ella whispers it to herself like a magic spell: “matryoshka, matryoshka.” Granddad used to get her to say strange words like that to help him do his conjuring tricks. “Repeat after me,” he’d command. “Verucca, pertrucca, kertrucca.” And then he’d open his hands and the coin would be gone, or would have appeared, glowing against his palm like a solid spot of sun.

These days he doesn’t do magic tricks any more. Doesn’t do anything much; just sits in his chair by the hearth emitting harrumphing noises with a wet, sticky finish. Ella cringes when she hears it, but Grandma just murmurs: “Oh dear” and goes over and wipes his chin. Sometimes, when he opens his pale blue eyes and seems to watch her, Ella will kneel down beside him and mutter, “matryoshka, matryoshka”, and close his fingers around the smallest doll, just for a moment. Sometimes when she does this, his lips twitch like he’s about to smile.

Ella’s certain the smallest doll has other powers it has yet to show her.

When it’s time for her to go to bed in the room that’s hers when she sleeps at her grandparents’ place, Grandma goes and gets the phone from the shelf in the hall. Then, once she’s said goodnight to Mom and Dad on the phone, and to the baby brother she’s yet to meet, she and Grandma place each of the dolls back inside one another, all except the smallest, which Ella cradles in her hands all night long. Sometimes she hopes the heat from her palms will split it open – like an egg hatching – to reveal what’s nestled inside. But every so often the hugeness of the possibilities of what that thing might be scares her and she wakes Grandma with her wailing.

Granddad never stirs.

The new baby is called Liam – a soft name, like the touch of Grandma’s cat’s belly fur against her hand. Yet when she thinks of Liam it’s not soft belly fur that comes to mind – it’s teeth and claws that twist at her insides and make her wish she could curl up small enough to hide in the largest of the matryoshka dolls, snug and secure.

When Mom and Dad told Ella about the new baby, before he even had a name, she knew a little brother to would be better than any toys, even the matryoshka dolls. But she got impatient waiting and began to nag at him to come out, whispering softly to Mom’s belly: “Push, push, come on!” So when he suddenly did decide to come out, very quickly and far earlier than he ought, she knew it must be at least partly her fault. The screaming still rips through Ella’s head late at night. Sometimes it bursts from the body of the smallest matryoshka doll, making Ella shriek with it and soaking the darkness so that Grandma has to come upstairs and change the sheets.

Ella doesn’t like to play with the dolls when Grandma’s cat is around; he occasionally makes a sudden pounce into the midst of them, or treads very delicately between them, then knocks them spinning with a twitch of his tail. She waits until he’s safely outside, busy stalking bees among the clover that dapples the lawn.

Grandma is upstairs helping Granddad have his bath, so Ella has the kitchen to herself. She lines up the dolls all along the countertop, a forest of dolls, with the smallest catching the sun like a birthday candle, ready to be blown out, blown up, in exchange for a wish. She has an image of something fluttering inside the little wooden body, full of air and energy. Like the air and energy her little brother needs.

The doll is a chrysalis, she decides, and inside is a golden butterfly that will zoom from Grandma and Granddad’s house to the hospital and the cage where Mom, Dad and Liam are trapped, and the butterfly will unlock the cage and reunite them with Ella and Grandma and Granddad.

It makes such wonderful, shimmering sense that Ella has to gasp for breath. She lifts her face from the cold countertop and reaches for the smallest doll, not caring that she knocks some of the others spinning in the process.

She takes the nutcracker from the kitchen drawer and places the tiny painted doll inside, and she turns the screw, winding it tight. The doll squeals as the screw presses into her belly, but Ella ignores it. There’s a soft cracking sound and Ella closes her eyes, expecting a blinding light to burst out, fiercer than the sun. She stays like that, eyes pinched closed, the nutcracker cradled in her hands, the splintered doll inside it, and she wishes as hard as she possibly can.

 

——————–

Judy Darley is a UK-based fiction writer, poet and journalist. Her words have been published by literary magazines and anthologies, including Unthank Books’ Unthology 8. She has read her short fiction on BBC radio, in cafés, in caves, in artist’s studios and in a disused church. She blogs about art and other things at www.skylightrain.com, and tweets @JudyDarley.

Rabbit Stew

By Joseph Eastburn

My father was Southern, and stories were a big part of my understanding of who we were. There was the one about how his family piled into a Model T Ford, or “The Fidder,” as it was called, and moved to New York where the eldest son, Cecil, was moving up at Burrows Adding Machine. There were the exploits of Leslie, the second son, in a convertible with his ukulele and raccoon coat. Before that, there was the story about how in the early 1930s, just after Christmas, the family’s house in North Carolina burned to the ground—how they had to scramble with nine children to find a place to live that winter; for many years, no one knew how the fire had started. In fact, it was a jealously guarded secret. What was no secret, however, was that my grandmother, Charlotte—whom I knew only as “Granny”—loved rabbit stew.

My father married and settled in northern New Jersey. When I was growing up, we lived on a country road with a steep hill of woods behind our house. The neighbor to our left was a man named Ralph Roberts. We knew he hunted when we heard shotgun blasts in the distance during hunting season. Once I saw a deer hanging in his backyard and, not knowing why it was hanging there, assumed it was some mysterious process that hunters engaged in and didn’t question it. When my father thought I should go on my first hunting trip, he called Ralph and asked him if he would induct me into the strange world of killing and eating animals.

I had been over to the Roberts house a few times and knew Ralph’s son, Don, a big, quiet, athletic guy with a blond flattop who was my older sister’s age. Every morning I would see him walk to the bottom of his driveway with his books when the school bus stopped along our road. One of my sister’s girlfriends, Micky, was madly in love with Don. One night she came over to our house and (at least in my memory of it) invited between five and fifteen girls along for moral support. It seemed like fifty. What was the big event? Micky had gotten up the nerve to go ask quiet Don to go steady. She’d gotten my sister involved because of her proximity to the Roberts house.

It was a warm summer night with a soft breeze that was everywhere agitating the tree leaves. As the younger brother, I naturally tagged along and was surrounded by a herd of colorful summer dresses as we galloped up Don’s driveway in the dark. One of the girls started yelling like a banshee and the rest of the girls joined in so that—with the exception of an embedded little brother—we must have looked like an attacking horde of pubescent teenage girls storming the battlement and asking for Don’s head, or some other remarkable body part. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts appeared outside the rear screen door, puzzled but smiling. We chanted “We want Don!” until—flattop glistening with hair tonic, and wearing a fresh striped shirt and black chinos—Don appeared to rousing cheers and was spirited away, for all I knew, to a human sacrifice. Whether he ended up going steady with Micky or being eaten, I can’t remember.

We had an additional wooded lot between our properties that had been cleared of underbrush and planted with grass, but the trees—the tall oaks, white birches, and sugar maples—created a cathedral of shade above and a natural series of green curtains between the Roberts house and our own. My father built sheds on that lot where he kept lawnmowers and gardening equipment. On the other side of the sheds, he built a music studio around a tall oak tree, enclosed by a skylight that leaked. He kept adding on, building a bedroom above one wing, and eventually when my parents decided to separate, my father moved into his studio. I have vivid memories of my mother calling my father on the phone in the mornings with a somber tone and telling him that breakfast was ready. My father would walk down from the studio in a robe, greet us, and eat quietly at the breakfast table, looking chagrined.

On the land above the studio, my father actually built me a baseball field with a regulation backstop, and for my birthdays, we would sponsor a baseball game where I would be the captain of the Yankees and another kid would be the captain of the Dodgers. There would be a prize bat for best player, a new white baseball for runner-up, and a booby prize—usually a piece of fruit painted to look like a baseball—which, when hit with a bat, would explode. The irony of this was that in my forties I moved to Los Angeles and became a Dodgers fan, much to my own personal torment. Surely this was the work of a God with a wicked sense of humor.

As a child, at every one of my birthday baseball games, I ended up crying loudly and enthusiastically when things didn’t go my way. I mean, first of all, how many kids in the world had fathers who built them a baseball field? How could I be crying? What problem could possibly be important enough to bring me to tears? My father grew up in a poor family in the South, had eight siblings and must have wanted for everything—so I realized he was compensating and lavished on me what he had been deprived of as a boy. One birthday party, he was pitching and I was on second base, crying my eyes out. He turned around to me, his face red, voice raised with shaking emotion, and shouted for me to shut up, just shut up. Looking back now, as a parent, I understand the height of his emotion. Whenever our children cry, parents take it personally, as if our own unresolved childhood emotions have reappeared out of someone else’s body like ghosts to haunt us.

With my friends, I built makeshift tree houses on that wooded lot between the Roberts house and ours. Once when I’d climbed high up in a tree with my friend Kevin, my sister walked outside with a sandwich and, while she ate it, called up to me, “Don’t fall for Atlantic City!” That must have been the summer we drove down to the Jersey shore for a family vacation. My parents went to play golf, and when my father apparently tried one too many times to tell my mother how to hit the ball, she lifted her club in the air and tried to hit him over the head. He raised his arm to protect himself, and she broke his elbow. So he bought her a car. That pretty much captures my parents.

I once constructed a platform between three birch trees about ten feet off the ground, built a side wall, pounded nails into it at different angles, and pretended they were switches to blow up the world. It was the fifties, after all, with air raid drills at school where we would hide under our desks in case of a nuclear attack. My cousin’s family even built a fallout shelter. With an older kid named Douglas, a neighbor not as nice as Don, (who may have had sinister ideas in mind), I built a tree house in an oak tree high above a giant boulder. After having a few drinks one night, my father stormed out with a hammer and ripped out the first few pieces of two-by-four we’d nailed as a ladder above the rock—apparently to keep me from falling and killing myself. The next day he hired a carpenter to build me a real tree house in a different giant oak above the baseball field. One year, a girl I had a crush on came to one of my baseball games with her girlfriend and from high in the tree house cheered for my team. I never really liked the professionally built tree house as much as my own dilapidated creations, but I did go up there to smoke and with my friend Walter, sleep out overnight, discuss the bewildering and mystical parts of girl’s bodies, and beat off.

From that baseball field is where I first saw the dead deer, antlers and all, hanging from a tree. I didn’t dare go up and look at it. To see such a beautiful animal hanging dead just behind my backstop was too dark and menacing for a middle-school kid to contemplate. When I asked my father about it, he said something about the deer curing before Ralph would slaughter it to harvest the venison. I didn’t want to understand any of that, but the meat itself sounded exotic, so to my young brain, it helped me forgive Ralph Roberts for killing the deer.

The night before my hunting trip, my parents suggested I lay out my clothes. That’s when I came up with the crazy idea of wearing football cleats. Sneakers just didn’t seem to be rugged enough. The next morning at 5:00 a.m. when I clomped up the Roberts’ black tar driveway, Ralph came out the back door and said, “What in the world have you got on your feet?”

When I told him, he shook his head and told me I’d have to take them off before I came in for breakfast. Ralph’s wife served us bacon and eggs and coffee, and I when I saw Ralph sponge up the egg with the cake side of a sweet roll instead of toast, I did the same. After breakfast, he took me over to his gun case beside the mantle and lifted a .410 shotgun out from behind a glass door and handed it to me. It was light. He showed me how to break open the barrel and load the chamber. He dropped a handful of thin green shells into the pocket of a tan game jacket he said I could wear. He even opened up the ends of two shells with a pen knife to show me the size of the .410 BBs compared to the larger BBs for his double-barrel 12 gauge. When I put my cleats back on, he began shaking his head again. We started climbing the hill behind his house just as it started to get light out. He said I was going to warn every animal in the woods that we were coming.

It all happened very fast. He’d been telling me that I might get a rabbit because they come out of their holes in the morning when it’s cold and hop around to get warm. Sure enough, a rabbit ran by us and it was so slow, it might as well have sauntered by. I lifted the .410, clicked the safety off, and fired in its direction. I remember the cloud of smoke. I guess I winged it, because Ralph rushed over and grabbed the rabbit up by the scruff of the fur and banged it on the head with the barrel of his shotgun. The combination was enough to kill it. Ralph unsnapped the back of the game jacket I was wearing and placed the rabbit in a small pouch. All the way back down the hill, I could feel the warmth of the animal against the small of my back. It didn’t occur to me that the warmth was fading as I walked. My father was proud of me and seemed moved when he saw the game I had killed. I didn’t understand why. He wrapped the rabbit in newspaper, placed it in the freezer (my mother would shortly discover it by accident and scream), then he took me out onto the back porch to tell me a story.

When his family’s house had burned down that winter in the ’30s, my father was about fifteen years old. His father, who worked as a bricklayer and a shopkeeper who sold meat to the Army, had fallen on lean times but had managed to find work as a caretaker for a farm estate where he tended the grounds, fed the animals, and kept the farm machinery working. The big empty house where they lived was heated by a giant fireplace in the kitchen. To get them through that first month, my father used to set rabbit traps at night, get up first thing in the morning, check the traps, and usually catch a rabbit or two. He would bring the rabbits in and clean them (I didn’t understand until much later what this meant), and his mother would roast the fresh meat over an open flame or fry it in a cast iron pan. Meanwhile, my aunts would come downstairs and stand in front of the fireplace to keep warm while they were dressing, and my grandmother would serve the family fried rabbit and fresh biscuits for breakfast. Later, she would add carrot, onion, and potato to make rabbit stew.

Before my grandmother died, she ate the rabbit I shot, or so I was told. That marked the end to my rabbit story, and it was, to my thinking, a happy ending despite the fact that a pitifully slow rabbit had been roused from its burrow by the scrape of football cleats on a cold morning and had met its fate by a middle-schooler’s first shot. I never saw my grandmother eat the rabbit. For that matter, I never knew if the story about my father catching rabbits when he was fifteen was true. So I have to take his word on both counts. But I found out years later that his family house had burned down when my grandmother tried to put the Christmas tree in the fireplace.

My father told me Granny ate that rabbit stew in the months before she died and was gratified that her sensitive grandson had been the one to kill the rabbit. I have to believe this story is true. When I told the story to my wife, she frowned and said, “Who cooked the stew?”

I said without hesitation, because it made a good story: “My father, of course.”

 

——————–

Joseph Eastburn earned a master’s degree from USC, where he taught writing for ten years. His writing has appeared in American Theatre, Apalachee Review, Crack the Spine, Penmen Review, Reed Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Slow Trains, The Sun Magazine, Tower Journal, Sand Hill Review, and Hobo Pancakes. His first novel, Kiss Them Good-Bye, was re-published by Morrow in January, 2016. His new novel, A Craving, was 3rd Place Winner in the Operation: Thriller Writing Competition.

The Secret Life of Statues

By Brian Howlett

I may be only 28-inches tall, but I am fearsome. I can feel the power that emanates from me high into the domed ceiling above, and I would challenge you to ignore it. My arms and legs and beautiful hips are made of the fine Italian ceramic known as majolica. “Majolica.” “Majolica.” The sound of the word makes me wish that I could speak the language, but I am defined by those who kneel before me. My wood base is rumored to have come from the Holy Land, but I believe that to be a lie, because the large crucifix at the altar is said to contain a sliver of the actual cross of Jesus, and I know that simply can’t be true.

I am painted in aqua and rose, in once-vivid hues that made me proud, but which are now faded from the sunlight and human light pouring onto my body throughout the day. My robe, and it’s such a beautiful robe, is chipped at the bottom. It happened during Easter season of 2011, when Father Marrincin invited parishioners to take me home for a personal vigil. To make it fair, he created a draw to determine which families would have the honor. I loved the idea at the time. The flock held me in even more awe when I stood before them in their bedrooms and kitchens and living rooms. They cleared their furniture, putting me on stage. I became the center of their lives, like a movie star.

The Boyd family is among our congregation’s poorest, and know enough to attend the low mass on Sundays, and to always sit at the back of the church. Their name was drawn, and I was delivered to their home for one weeknight. As their father carried me into the bedroom, he knocked me against the stern doorframe. I suspect he was drunk, even though he and I didn’t talk in church, so I didn’t have occasion to learn his particular habits and weaknesses. The damage I sustained was minimal, but Father Marrincin ended the experiment then and there. Mrs. Boyd was mortified, and a few weeks later she stopped coming to mass entirely. I assume she found another church, but that’s no business of mine.

Our janitor tried patching the chip, but he is no old-world craftsman. He is cursed with awkward, young American blood. So now I stand before you, forced to endure a large dab of mismatched aqua paint trying to cover up the injury, but that fools no one. I do not hold this against the janitor, but I do find it odd that he is one of the few who never prays to me. Maybe because his job is with the church, he believes he already has his passage to heaven booked. Or maybe he simply doesn’t believe. After all, as I have learned through the years, not all of my parishioners believe in God, and unlike the priest, I am not here to convert. Nor am I here to judge.

I am also at peace with the way my bare left foot has become shiny from years of congress with human oils. Everyone who passes me on the way to the pews is compelled to touch me in the same spot. My sandal, which was once so beautifully sculpted, is completely worn away. The veins in my foot and knuckles of my toes are smoothed away to nothing.

Years ago the touch of a human hand would electrify me. But today there is no spark, and I have come to resent the touch, but am still awakened by it. So when they kneel at my feet to pray, I respect that they are sharing their most intimate fears and hopes, so I can’t help myself. I listen.

To Gina, who is 78 years old and poor like myself. Her left knee is arthritic. Her husband Joe died when she was a 27-year-old beauty. She has worn black ever since, according to the faith, sealing her barren, beautiful figure in a tomb. I was there on her wedding day. And I was there at the funeral. Gina comes to morning mass early so that she can visit with me alone. She believes that saying a prayer is like playing the lottery. “You have to be in it to win it,” she says to herself. I like that. She changes the sequence of the Hail Mary, Our Father, and Act of Contrition along the rosary every day, as if she is entering numbers on a ticket. I know she also prays at home, and then again once the mass begins. But I like to believe things are more real when she is with me. Her plea for relief from the arthritis is predictable, and not worth my attention. But on occasion she turns to the hate she still feels for her husband. She had loved him when they married as children, but decades of mourning will turn even the strongest love around. I know that she has confessed this hate only to me. I find the prayer fascinating, and I refuse to answer it. If I release her from that hate, I will miss out on seeing how deeply it can grow within her, and better understand what planted the seed of resentment in the first place. Was it because she could no longer have sex? I hear much about this, the love for it, the hate, regrets, anxieties, and obsessions. In the old days women would often confess to feeling physical desires that they couldn’t pursue until marriage. That vow of chastity is more unusual these days, and Gina often criticizes the younger women of our parish, suspecting that many are willfully sinning.

I learned long ago that I do have the power to grant their prayers. I remember the Sunday that our bright young basketball player, Norman, prayed with all his heart to me to have a big game the following Friday night. He wasn’t asking me to help his father find a job again, or for the parish’s young cancer victim, Pauline, to be cured. He wanted to score points in a meaningless game. He talked to me in great detail about layups, three pointers, and a long, impossibly arcing shot from the half-court to close out a period. I loved his arrogance and selfishness. It was honest. He returned the following Sunday morning to thank me for helping him set a high-school city record by scoring fifty-three points. I was thrilled, and ever since I have taken tremendous pride in my proven divinity. Norm is now middle-aged, suffering all the menial pressures of providing for his family. He still touches my toe and kneels at my feet, but now asks that his daughter get good grades and that he can move to a day shift so that he can be there to help her with homework. I have no interest in this conversation.

Nor do those who are already dead arouse me. I find the weekday dawn masses, given up for the deceased, stifling. I know, for instance, that as Lindsay sets down before me, she is going to ask if her mother’s soul is still at peace in heaven. There is no surprise for me. There is no reason to listen. It is a prayer that has been told so often by others that the words are fossils. It is only when she strays momentarily in her thoughts to blame her mother for chasing away every man in her own youth that I stop to listen. But she is simply ascribing blame. She is not asking me to bring any change to her life. I wonder why she never mentions her father in her prayers. He is still alive and shares their home. I see him sit beside her in the pew, and it’s strange that she always keeps the thickest hymnal book between them.

I entertain thieves, adulterers, liars, even a murderer, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has spent time in a holy place. And knowing me a little now, you may think it is these more dramatic tales that catch my fancy. And sometimes they do. But truth be known, I’m not following any rulebook. And I am most definitely not struck by the pious. As far as I know, there is no reward for living a good life.

One year the church welcomed a sister congregation from Africa. Their prayers were modest: a new bed, schoolbooks, a soccer ball. Their asks were stained with thoughts of charity. But they misunderstood me. I am not concerned with the welfare of others, and I stopped listening to them after the first mass. Did they wonder why their prayers went unanswered? Or do they simply keep the faith?

I wish I could ignore Lawrence in this way. He visits me before mass and after, once the church has emptied. He is more distraught with every passing Sunday. He started a few months back by simply telling me about his frustrations with his supervisor at work. He feels he is far too talented for the job he’s doing, but she refuses to give him more opportunity, even though it is obvious how much better he is than everyone else. In Afghanistan he was a leader of many. He was born to give orders, not take them. And he works harder than any of them, but she never once acknowledges it. As our Sundays passed, his anger shifted to his co-workers. He couldn’t sleep thinking about them and how they were getting in his way of a promotion. Then today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, he surprised me, asking me to give him the strength to take his guns to the warehouse tomorrow. He has been shooting them in the ravine behind his house, staying sharp. I like surprises, as you know, but not this. I do my best to close myself to his prayer. Next Sunday, when he visits me, what will he be telling me?

Louise prays for her dog’s cancer to be cured. She actually has the nerve to bring him to church with her, and leave him tied up outside. I laugh, knowing this prayer I will never grant. People are seldom worth my talents, let alone a dog.

Paul loves his younger sister who is deaf. He prays that everyone who meets her will understand that she can’t hear what they are saying.

Frank prays to be able to eat an entire breakfast after mass, like he used to. He has had half his stomach taken away, yet he is determined to enjoy the bacon and fat that had it removed in the first place. I grant him the power to be stupid. I give him the confidence he will need to sit down at the diner across from the church and make the order.

Lally has prayed for years for her husband to be taken from her. He is a cheat. Just after Christmas he was killed in a car accident. He was the only one killed. The other two passengers were virtually untouched. So naturally, Lally thinks it was by my hand. I had nothing to do with it, but now I must endure her longer, enthusiastic visits and the extraordinary number of “Hallelujahs” and “Glory be to the Fathers” she offers to me.

Of course, I can never ignore the plea of a child. Emma is twelve and the most unpopular girl in her school. She is safe here in church, but I pity her weakness. This week she asked me to help her take care of Laurie Casey. Laurie is the prettiest girl in grade five. Emma wants to see her fall down in the schoolyard and tear open her knees on the hard asphalt and bleed from her pretty hair in front of all the boys. This isn’t about heaven and hell. It’s about getting ahead on this earth, and that is likely all they have. Envy is pure. Envy is to be rewarded.

Whatever the prayer, the common denominator is human weakness. My fellow statues are strong, like me. Consider the twelve-foot Jesus hanging on the wall behind the altar. He is nailed to a cross. How many humans have to endure such a thing? The life-size statue of Joseph in the corner of the church is carrying the baby Jesus in his strong arms. He crossed deserts on foot to find a place for me to give birth. There are saints lining our church walls, all who had the courage to sacrifice for their faith. I’m not saying these events happened. I wasn’t there. But these are the stories that we have been sculpted to tell.

Yesterday, as our priest was preparing for today’s service, he knelt down before me for the first time since he arrived to our congregation. He normally chooses to pray at the altar, even when the church is empty. But I could tell something was troubling him. It turns out there is a plan to sell the church. He talked to me about how wasteful the size of our church parking lot is today. The city has grown by two million people over the past three decades, and there is a need to build more living space. In fact, he actually said that the size of their building was almost “sinful.” He explained that the developers would build a new, smaller church on the same site, in addition to two condominium towers. The architects were proposing a beautiful circular design so that all the pews would be around the altar. They would import a fine new altar from Italy. There would be a modern conference center in the basement. The archbishop was going to be involved in the project, and a negotiating team from Rome was arriving next month. He was excited in sharing these details with me, yet I could sense his guilt. He hadn’t yet shared the news with anyone in the parish, and knows they will be upset by change. Yet he’s right; the church is less crowded these days, and a smaller structure will suffice. He stayed with me for over an hour, going back and forth over the different scenarios. I listened to every word. He is not praying to me; only asking for guidance. But I am not thinking of him or the parishioners. If they destroy this church, what becomes of me? Will they erect brilliant new statues that are freshly painted and full of more energy than I can muster? Will they sculpt a new Mary taller than my 28 inches? Will they be moved to sculpt a more beautiful Mary?

The parishioners will adjust. I know they visit other statues outside of church. There is a large bronze in the nearby shopping mall in memory of the founder of Wandorp’s Department Store, or Wando’s, as he is called. Norman, Lally, Frank, and the others may not kneel in front of him as they do me, but I suspect they can’t resist touching his shiny left toe, as the thousands of others do who pass him every day: Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, and Buddhists alike.

A new statue has been erected outside the hockey arena a few blocks from me. It is in honor of one of that sport’s legendary players, and I am sure that many of my parishioners will also be among those to pay their respects. They will ask for hockey wins, sure. But they will be unable to resist the temptation to ask for forgiveness, or for happiness, because humans need something bigger than them. They will say a brief, silent prayer to find a wife, or to gain a second chance at work. Or they will wonder about a new car, or if their daughter will one day win acceptance to dental school.

And the storefront tycoon and the extraordinary hockey player may find it within themselves to grant that prayer on occasion, as I do. Because I can’t tell you if there is a God or not, but I do know there are statues.

 

——————–

Brian Howlett lives and works in Toronto. He only recently started writing short stories and has enjoyed early success, being featured in literary magazines including Limestone Magazine, Crack the Spine, Queen’s Quarterly and Serving House Journal. He was a finalist in the Writer’s Union of Canada 2015 Short Prose competition. You can tell him what you think of this story at bhowlett@agency59.ca, or follow him on Twitter @bdhow.

White on Green

By George Korolog

The belief was stuffed into the room with her, a thinly veiled brittle cake, stiff and fragile, a remnant that had been left to fend for it-self, isolated and exposed, left for dead in a desolate field to weather and brown, little by little, for eighty eight years.  We steadied ourselves in the room where every breath stretched, with great difficulty, inhaling ourselves forward into the approaching morning light. We gathered in circles to pray, to play the excruciating concluding notes, the furthest point of a prolonged and tired echo that flowed into the crowded air surrounding her bed, the space swelling with the smell of bitter porridge dripping in sour wine.  As a distraction, we told ourselves the old stories and applied the touch, the one that would pass through her furrowed wrinkles and plunge unadulterated, headlong into the blood, the knowing tap reserved for the dying, and only the dying.

We stroked her, and each other, with the downward stare, a constant bruising, our eyes blinking uncomfortably to the ticking, to the waning sounds of valves, the echo of air moving in and out, pulsing into white that could no longer be understood as a color, but as feeling, a premonition of how it might feel to see her lying quietly inside a mahogany box lined with clean fat linens. Beyond the end of the bed, there was a large rectangular window, cut deeply into thewall where the remaining gusts of pure white drifted across the emerald stories that lay beyond the window, moonstone and amethyst, moss opal tales that seemed out of place, not of this world, but still coloring the edge of things that we had come to believe.

The priest arrived to pray. We bent our heads down with him, our eyes still looking up at the monitor, rocking ourselves to the words and the sounds, to the slowing beeps, waiting for sprigs of grass to grow out of the cold linoleum to soften the floor, waiting for the moment to say, “yes, you’ve lived a good life,” the closing lie that we had saved for the time when there was nothing more to say.  We turned off the switch and counted two hundred breaths, the number of remaining heartbeats that we did not know were left in her body. We counted patiently to the end.

I asked to be alone with her.  The room emptied and it seemed as if the entire world had bent from the knees and  solemnly backed out, as if to leave a lord, unaccompanied and alone, to sentence a splintered soul who could never know what she had done.  I sat next to her bed with my head leaning stiff on the hard winter skin that stretched across her hands, hoping to find a place to touch.  I could not bring myself to look at her face, and so I stared out the window and it was there that I saw her, sitting on the grass, in delicate sea of absolution, in the air that had passed through the window, beneath the shade of the oak trees, in the summer dress that I had once seen her wear in an old photo, smiling in a way that I had never seen, framed perfectly within the window, with air and colors that now danced, the white on green that had now, finally, kissed her face.

 

——————–

George Korolog is a San Francisco Bay Area poet and writer. His work has been published internationally. His first book of poetry, “Collapsing Outside the Box,” was published by Aldrich Press in November 2012. His second book of poems, “Raw String” was published in October, 2013 by Finishing Line Press.  He is working on his third book of poetry, “The Little Truth.”

The Bride of Christ

By R Torrence

George Catlin slipped through the darkness of the forest, eager to feel the brush in his hand once more. This would be the final phase of his masterpiece. He paused briefly by the entrance to the grotto, pondering what might have been. But that was then, this was now. He kept to the shadows as he sneaked across the parking lot. But at the basement door, he collapsed to the ground with a howl. The entrance was cemented over! The church had buried his painting alive. His reason to live was dead.

* * *

The gaggle of reporters and cameramen that had assembled behind the multiwinged Church of Christ was wrapped in a calm-before-the-storm stillness that would break into chaos the instant the partly hidden basement door opened. Four TV vans sprouted broadcast shafts like metallic mushrooms driven mad on growth hormones. A solitary squirrel hopped here and there, passing the people as if they were simply clumps of grass. It was a hot summer afternoon, but the forest behind the church pushed shade to the edge of the parking lot.

A photographer stood a little back from the throng, apart and yet a part, as much observing as at the ready to photograph. A woman separated from the crowd to walk toward him with the effortless sophistication of the assistant editor of the Post’s “Art” section. She turned back to look at the crowd, as if checking out his point of view.

“You’ve never been one to go for the scoop, have you, John?”

“I’m here because of the rumor about a hermit’s artwork in an abandoned crypt. Think it’s true?”

“If it is, he’s painted the Second Coming of the Sistine Chapel in there.” She swept back her long brown hair to glance at him from the corner of her eye. “What do you think?”

“Sounds so bizarre it must be true,” he said.

Kitty laughed.

“That’s so like you, John.” She smiled whimsically as she gazed over the press, crowding the entrance like a pack of hyenas ready to tear into a juicy carcass. “For sure we’re the only two here about the art. They want to break the story of the biggest and richest church in the area calling the police to evict a poor hermit living in an abandoned cellar.”

* * *

That afternoon Martin Seymour, pastor of the Church of Christ, plunged into the business-club crowd, hungry to shake as many hands as he could. He made a beeline for Jack Trenton, the local car dealer who was in a dead heat for state governor. On the way Martin patted an arm here, a shoulder there, grabbing every hand he could reach. But he saved the arm-around-the-shoulders squeeze for his favorite candidate.

“Wonderful to see a congregation member make good!” he said.

“I’m not in the Governor’s Mansion yet,” Jack laughed.

“But you will be,” a beaming Martin said, taking Jack’s hand with a crushing grip.

“I’m deeply grateful for the support you’ve given me,” Jack said. “You’re the moral leader of our community.”

“And I’m grateful for your support of our campaign to protect the sacred bond of marriage between a man and a woman. It’s the defining issue of our time.”

The master of ceremonies called for everyone to be seated. Martin took his usual place, eagerly looking over the crowd of impeccably dressed businessmen for the movers and shakers, nodding and smiling at several he already knew. He breathed the energy of the room into himself.

When Martin was asked to bless the meal, he stood, arms raised for all to bow their heads. “Lord,” he said, and then hurled back to the crowd the energy he’d drawn from them, “bless these good people who’ve gathered here in the cause of decency. Protect them from those in our community who misguidedly extol the virtues of unnatural temptations in the name of individual freedom.” Martin packed more spiritual fervor into two short minutes than any other preacher in town. It would draw several of the afternoon audience to his church next Sunday, and that’s what it was all about.

* * *

Just a week before all the commotion, George Catlin, the hermit, had tossed fitfully on his sleeping mat, fighting the images of naked bodies whirling through his brain like legions of erotic dancers. Tonight it was particularly difficult to quell the desires stirring in his groin. Unbidden glimpses of the lover he’d abandoned his wife and children for repeatedly penetrated his brain—the taste of flesh, the hips pressed so urgently against his. But in the midst of their joy, he was abandoned—thrown away like so much spoiled meat.

George jumped up from his mat to pace the cell that had been his home for five years. Light flickered softly from one of the seven large candles he’d set on boxes shoved against the stone walls. Bright light wasn’t necessary. He’d come to realize that truth lived in darkness.

Maybe a moonlight walk would drive out the torture of these cravings. After donning his sweats, he slipped from the basement door into the night, where the moonglow brought the shadows to life. George walked soundlessly across the parking lot into the forest on the rubber soles of his jogging shoes, passing the hidden grotto where he and the great love of his life had first kissed.

On the way back, an ugly light flashed into his eyes.

“Stop!”

George put an arm up to block the light.

A uniformed security guard moved toward him, cell phone at the ready to draw like a deputy of the Old West.

“This is private property!”

“Why does a church have to be guarded?”

“I don’t make the decisions here, bud. I just do my job. And you’re to stay off. Understand?”

“My kind isn’t allowed in church?”

“Don’t be a smart-ass! You know what I mean.”

When the guard dialed a number on the cell phone, George turned abruptly and slipped back into the dark woods to hide until the guard left. After all these years, he’d finally been found out!

* * *

John and Kitty watched the crowd erupt as a paddy wagon appeared around the side of the church and stopped beside the TV vans. Three cops got out. A police car followed with two more. The first three walked calmly to the door, while the other two held back the press, each of whom seemed determined to be the first to wedge through the open door. After about ten minutes, the media throng went into an even greater frenzy when the police emerged from the basement dragging a thin, bearded man between them.

“He looks like Jesus!” John said.

“I was just thinking that,” Kitty said. “I wonder what he’s like.”

They watched the media swarm after the police. There was a dash for cars and vans after the hermit was loaded into the paddy wagon.

“What a media event! The Church of Christ has just had a poor, Christlike hermit arrested and handcuffed,” Kitty said.

“Shall we?” John motioned toward the church.

* * *

Martin Seymour stood up at the pulpit, pitching back and forth on the balls of his feet, hands on the lectern, and looked over a sea of faces that filled every pew in his giant sanctuary, that looked around pillars and along the edges of the aisles from temporary chairs, with hundreds more sitting before TVs in the vestry, the classrooms, the activities hall downstairs. He looked full into the TV cameras that were like the giant eyes of the many thousands who watched and listened in their homes.

At this precise moment every Sunday, Martin Seymour raised his arms to receive God’s electricity from above, so it could flow through him into the people seated at his feet. But Pastor Seymour also held an MBA from the University of Chicago. He understood how to position everything he said and did to unlock the financial power that family values held for his church. “We must have the faith to be moral in an immoral world,” he began.

* * *

John and Kitty stepped down the stairs toward George Catlin’s underground chamber. Sunlight from the door behind them splashed a pathway into the darkness. At the bottom, they found a room still lit by two flickering candles the police hadn’t bothered to put out.

Kitty surveyed the pallet where George had slept, a tin plate, a cup.

“Suitably monklike.”

John poked a pile of old blankets with his toe. He stuck his head into the bathroom, where he clicked on the light.

“He had electricity, but apparently didn’t use it.” He turned from the bathroom. “There’s soap and towels…he seemed to believe in cleanliness.”

Kitty looked around her in dismay.

“But where’s the work?”

John pointed at a small door at the rear of the cellar.

“What’s that for?”

He opened the door to reveal a narrow, pitch-black corridor. Kitty brought the two candles. She peered past him into the darkness.

“Up for it?” John asked.

“You first,” she said, handing over a candle.

John stooped over and, candle in front of him, began to scuttle crablike into the passage. After several feet, he stopped. “Okay?”

“Just keep going!”

Another twenty feet brought him to a second opening. Candle held high, he stepped into a large chamber. Every inch of wall and ceiling space was awash with color.

“My goodness!” Kitty said, straightening up to stand beside him. “The man did paint his heart out here, didn’t he?”

John nodded, surveying a swirl of writhing grotesques. Everywhere, faces bulged as if strangled by an invisible hand. Here and there, devils ran amok and penitents were nailed agonizingly to crosses.

“What do you make of it?” he asked.

Kitty stifled a laugh, pointing to a chartreuse Jesus that sported a purple vagina.

“What madcap irreverence!” she said. “Imagine decorating a church like this! I bet the reverend and the church elders are just thrilled.”

“What do you think of it as art?” John asked

“Impressive, certainly. He isn’t schooled, but the colors are extraordinary…especially when you consider the absence of light. Great art? I don’t think so. How about you?”

John studied the mural again before answering.

“I seem to be missing something in all this, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

“I feel the same.”

“This shouldn’t be destroyed though,” John said.

“I agree.”

“I’ll get some lights and record it for him.”

“That’s decent of you.” Kitty touched his arm gently, and John found himself liking it despite himself.

* * *

George Catlin glared at a policeman who sat unperturbed, punching at a computer keyboard.

“Will I go to jail?”

“Depends…Social Security number?”

George rattled it off.

The policeman looked at him with surprise, then turned back to the keyboard. “Repeat that,” he said and then typed it in.

“Address?”

“None. I’ve been living in the basement of Church of Christ,” George said with a sneer.

“Now that’s the problem, isn’t it?”

“Nobody was using it.”

“But you were told to leave.”

“My life’s work is there.”

The policeman shrugged.

“Whatever. Just don’t go back or you will wind up in jail.”

The policeman studied him for a while, then turned back to the computer.

“We can book you if you have no means of support.”

“Just because I don’t have a home, doesn’t mean I’m a vagrant!”

“They usually go together.”

“Not in this case. Call my bank.”

George gave the branch manager’s number, fidgeted while the policeman called…he’d already spent too much time with people.

After a brief conversation, the policeman hung up and gave George a long, quizzical look.

“Why choose to live like you do, when you’re obviously a man of means?”

“You’re not expected to understand.”

The policeman emitted a derisive snort.

You need to understand that the church is pressing charges, so unless you can get ahold of a good attorney right now, you’ll be here for a couple of days.”

* * *

After Kitty left, John carried his lighting equipment down to the basement. The struggle began when he pulled and tugged it through the tunnel to the crypt, uncoiling a long extension cord behind. It struck him that he, too, spent a lot of his time working alone.

He set up the lights to begin with a panoramic shot. As he set his camera, the overall concept of the painting began to dawn on him, and John wondered if his original assessment was too critical. He could now see that the grotesque swirl of devilry and agony actually coiled through the crypt toward the Jesus figure. The coil seemed to enter an aura of more delicate colors around Jesus, which he hadn’t seen at first, then follow a different, less developed path, which he had completely overlooked before. This was where the hermit was working before he was evicted…so to speak. These figures were not so distorted. The hermit may have intended for them to become more beatific.

John began to concentrate on the bizarre Jesus figure. Now he wasn’t so sure…was it actually a female figure, as he had thought at first? Or hermaphroditic?

It took him an hour to complete his study.

As he pulled the equipment back down the tunnel, he wondered if the church officials would ever find this crypt. Back in the basement room, he carefully shut the door to the tunnel. Perhaps whoever came down here to look would give the room a once-over and shut it up for good. Maybe that would sentence the hermit’s masterpiece to everlasting darkness, but it was John’s job to release it to the light.

* * *

Martin Seymour leafed through the day’s mail. At a cough at the door, he looked up to see his driver.

“Seville’s gassed and washed, sir, and I gave her a good polishing.”

“Excellent.” Martin glanced at his watch. “About half an hour…”

“Yes, sir.”

His driver turned to go.

“Fred…”

He turned back.

“Is that ruckus out back over?”

“Man’s gone, police’re gone, reporters’re gone.”

Martin let out a long, slow breath.

“Thank goodness that’s behind us.”

He returned to his letters, which he set aside after a few minutes to check his watch again. Downtime made him fidget. He stood, hands rammed in his pockets, moving to the window to look down on the green expanse that surrounded his church. At that very moment, a photographer snapped a picture from down below, as if framing him in his office window.

“Fred!” Martin yelled. “There’s another damned photographer taking pictures. Get security to escort him off the property.” He scowled down at the intruder. “Hold that.” The angle the photographer had chosen intrigued him.

He breezed past his startled secretary.

“Out for a walk!”

* * *

John looked up to see the pastor scramble down into the small ravine and stand next to him.

“My!” the reverend said breathlessly. “My!”

He stuck out a hand.

“Martin Seymour!”

“I’ve seen you on Larry King,” John said, taking the hand.

“That was months ago. I’d rather you see me in church.”

John smiled as he stepped sideways to take a final shot. The reverend moved behind him, as if to help sight the camera.

“What a magnificent view from down here,” he said. “It emphasizes the grandeur of the steeple. What a proclamation!”

John snapped the shot, turning to look into the reverend’s slightly overweight, slightly florid face.

“It strikes me more as an aspiration. A yearning,” he said.

Martin waved that away like swatting a fly.

“Oh, no! The Church of Christ is a proclamation of God’s will.” He pointed to the spire, which, from this angle, truly soared into the sky. “Can’t you see the grandeur? You picked this angle yourself. And how the walls form the foundation for it…a church built on a firm foundation.”

John smiled, thinking that in the bowels of Reverend Seymour’s firm foundation was the hermit’s frenzied, erotic, irreverent mural.

“The Episcopalians built it originally, but we’ve greatly expanded it.”

“Why’d they sell it?”

“They needed the money,” Seymour said with a shrug. “Their attendance was way down, and ours was way, way up. This is to be our national cathedral.”

“Sounds like a bank acquisition.”

With a laugh, Martin clapped him on the shoulder. “A bit of economics in everything, my boy. But the strong are rising.”

He paused to give John the once-over.

“You don’t seem like a member of the press?”

“I freelance.”

Martin thought that over.

“I’d like to commission you to do a photo study of our church.” Martin paused slyly. “Do you do portraits?”

“Some.”

“Then we can add a formal portrait of me.”

He reached out for a handshake on their deal.

“Before I go, can I ask you a question?” John asked.

“Fire away!”

“You’ve heard about the hermit’s paintings?” Martin nodded. “Do you know how the rumors got started?”

“Nothing mysterious about that, my boy. A member of our congregation who owns a convenience store other side of the woods had this customer for a few years. Recently this man, obviously a bizarre sort, unburdened his tormented soul to the owner, ranting about some painting he was creating in our church. Our man was shocked at the blasphemy the hermit described, so called me right away. That’s when we called the police. If he’d been a simple squatter, we’d have called social services. But we don’t tolerate blasphemy!”

“Did you find anything?”

“Security didn’t see a thing. So either the man is delusional or he’s hidden his filth away. But not to worry, we’re cementing the door over tomorrow.”

* * *

“John!” Kitty called. “They found the hermit dead at the cemented-over entrance to his crypt, apparently from a heart attack.”

“Oh my God! That poor bastard.”

“This is all so sad…”

“You need to come to my studio,” John said. “I’ve found something.”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“I think you should come over now!”

“I have such a difficult schedule today.”

“You really need to see this.”

* * *

“You’re acting so ‘scoopy,’” Kitty said as John ushered her into his studio. “This isn’t like you.” Then she stopped stock-still when she saw a montage of photographs covering an entire wall, which made up the whole of the hermit’s work. “Wow!” was all she could get out.

“Let me take you through it,” John said, sweeping his hand over the entire wall of distorted, agonized faces. “This is what we saw at first.”

“This is more powerful than I realized.”

“I agree,” John said. “But let’s dig deeper.” He directed her attention to the bottom right edge of the painting.

Kitty’s eyes narrowed. “It’s a recognizable face.” She moved closer, squinting. “But for the life of me, I can’t recognize who it is.”

“I can,” John said, handing her another photo. “It’s Martin Seymour. I’ve been doing a portrait of him, and I’d recognize that face anywhere.”

“But why is he in the painting?”

“Look at the letters at the very bottom, just above the edge of the painting.”

Kitty leaned forward, squinting.

“Oh my God!” she said. “Who would have thought?”

MS + GC
IN ETERNAL LOVE

They stood, side by side, gazing at the montage.

“I feel like Alice,” Kitty said.

John looked at her quizzically.

“I mean, as I really get engrossed in this mural and wind up at those initials, it’s like I’ve entered a world where everything is upside down.”

 

——————–

Ron Torrence has been writing for many years. His stories range from near mainstream treatments to far-out, dream-like pieces. The Bride of Christ is his 30th published story. He’s published a non-fiction book, In the Owner’s Chair, (Prentice-Hall), and many articles on small business management, including work featured in the Wall Street Journal. He spends summers drinking in sunsets on the Lake Erie shore and winters in the vibrant culture of Washington, DC.

Remember when you were born on another world–

By Alex Duensing

10.1 art - duensing, remember

 

——————–

Alex Duensing. Graduate of William Paterson and Columbia? Yes. Ran for St. Petersburg, FL City Council? Yes. Won? No. Stopped Mayan Apocalypse on rooftop with performance art? Yup. Strange but nice fellow? Clearly. Able to create mechanical engines that run completely on the energy a person creates while appreciating a painting? Mostly.

Liberty leading its own shadow.

By Alex Duensing

10.1 art - duensing, liberty

 

——————–

Alex Duensing. Graduate of William Paterson and Columbia? Yes. Ran for St. Petersburg, FL City Council? Yes. Won? No. Stopped Mayan Apocalypse on rooftop with performance art? Yup. Strange but nice fellow? Clearly. Able to create mechanical engines that run completely on the energy a person creates while appreciating a painting? Mostly.

Northwest Territories 1, 1979

By Mark Wyatt

800-0006-02-887_Northwest Territories, 1979

Mary Vittrekwa, next to the Peel River.

——————–

Mark Wyatt has been photographing the unfamous on city streets since around 1980. He posts his photographs to mwwyatt.wordpress.com, usually one or two a week. Each image shows all of what the camera saw at the moment that the shutter was tripped; they are never cropped and are minimally processed.

Northwest Territories 2, 1979

By Mark Wyatt

800-0012-02-1000_Northwest Territories, 1979

One of the kids, Fort McPherson.

——————–

Mark Wyatt has been photographing the unfamous on city streets since around 1980. He posts his photographs to mwwyatt.wordpress.com, usually one or two a week. Each image shows all of what the camera saw at the moment that the shutter was tripped; they are never cropped and are minimally processed.