Issue 6.3

Issue 6.3

CONTENTS of ISSUE 6.3 

—PROSE—

Borders by James Fowler

Lucky Beef by Dorene O’Brien

Yardstick Men by Todd Easton Mills

Ingenuity by Anders M. Svenning

Patience by Heather Haskins

Special by Jeremy Courville

Learning to Drive Home from the Bar by Erika D. Price

A Night in Peacetime by Brian Römmer

Mount Fuji by Naomi O’Hara

—POETRY—

The Dinosaur by Mark Belair

The Border by Mark Belair

Scars by Mark Belair

Fish Story by Perie Longo

Angle of Incidence by Isabel Brome Gaddis

I Think He’s an Actuary by Isabel Brome Gaddis

Low Tide at Mussel Shoals by Pamela Hammond

Something Else by Chanel Brenner

As the Shotgun Enters Hemingway’s Mouth, He Is Recalling by Robert Aquinas McNally

Beignets by William B. Robison

Her Broken Self by Stephanie Smith

Dark Sorrows of Wandering Fatigue by Stephanie Smith

Snake and Toad by Laura Schulkind

Lost in Tall Grass by Laura Schulkind

Dark Sorrows of Wandering Fatigue

By Stephanie Smith

Dark sorrows of wandering fatigue

The private hell of dancing cigarettes

On trembling lips,

Turbulent and barely alive

Like a terminally ill patient

With delirious thoughts

And the temporality of seasons

When all reason gets thrown to the wind

Rejection tastes like bitter wine

Forced down burning throats at suppertime

Black curtains shut away the light

We hide inside drunk on rhetoric and rum

And when the day is done

We slip out of our skins and into the night

___

Stephanie Smith is a poet and writer from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in such publications as Pif Magazine, decomP, The Horror Zine, Everyday Poets, and Bluestem. Her first poetry chapbook, Dreams of Dali, is available from Flutter Press.

Her Broken Self

By Stephanie Smith

she laid her I love you’s

out on the table

 

it’s not like her, I thought,

placing my napkin on my lap,

 

to wear her heart on her sleeve,

to spread her broken self around

for everyone to see

 

like ketchup on the meatloaf

breastmilk made her weep

 

so she cried until the cradle fell

and her lover returned home to her

in time for evening tea

___

Stephanie Smith is a poet and writer from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in such publications as Pif Magazine, decomP, The Horror Zine, Everyday Poets, and Bluestem. Her first poetry chapbook, Dreams of Dali, is available from Flutter Press.

 

Lost in Tall Grass

By Laura Schulkind

She said she knew the way and so I followed,

up the swath of matted dried grass

into the hills above Los Olivos

where she had once devoured a new life.

 

But her old running route is overgrown,

and we weave among the heavy limbs of live oak,

grown impossibly far from their base,

now resting along the path.

 

Then, there is no path at all.

We track winding patches of bare earth,

thinking each time we have picked up the trail,

until it ends in a mass of thistle and piñon.

 

Finally, we give up and bushwhack down,

the bite of stinging nettles on our hands,

the dig of burrs in our socks.

Donna stomping ahead to scare off any rattlers,

 

which I appreciated

but thought overly dramatic,

until we reached the parking lot, where

talking with the locals

 

she grabbed the shovel leaning against the shed

and without so much as a gasp

brought it down with a thud,

severing the head of a young, lost rattler.

 

The young ones are the most dangerous she said,

don’t ration their venom,

spend it all

on just one bite.

 

She said it gently though,

perhaps reading well my consternation,

knowing I was scared not for me,

but for you.

___

Laura Schulkind received her JD from New York University, where she focused on public service law, and she has been practicing for over twenty-five years. For the past fifteen years, she has specialized in representing public school and community college districts throughout California. She is the president of the statewide professional organization, the California Council of School Attorneys, and is a sought-after speaker throughout the state. She also has two grown sons who continue to challenge and inspire her.

She writes poetry and fiction because, lawyer that she is, she believes in the power of a well-told story. However, in law she is entrusted with others’ stories. It is through poetry and fiction that she is able to share her own paths and struggles. She has benefitted greatly from the Berkeley Writers Circle. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The MacGuffin. Forge, Minetta, Eclipse and Talking River.

Snake and Toad

By Laura Schulkind

Braided into the scrub brush,

I saw them,

snake and toad,

black garter slender as my beckoning finger,

except for its bulging jaw

stretched madly around half the toad,

head already gone,

belly the blue-white of fern tendrils still curled underground,

motionless except for the ripple of skin

stretched thin across its still-beating heart.

___

Laura Schulkind received her JD from New York University, where she focused on public service law, and she has been practicing for over twenty-five years. For the past fifteen years, she has specialized in representing public school and community college districts throughout California. She is the president of the statewide professional organization, the California Council of School Attorneys, and is a sought-after speaker throughout the state. She also has two grown sons who continue to challenge and inspire her.

She writes poetry and fiction because, lawyer that she is, she believes in the power of a well-told story. However, in law she is entrusted with others’ stories. It is through poetry and fiction that she is able to share her own paths and struggles. She has benefitted greatly from the Berkeley Writers Circle. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The MacGuffin. Forge, Minetta, Eclipse and Talking River.

 

A Night in Peacetime

By Brian Römmer

November 9, 1938. Kristallnacht.                                                      

Germany.

 

ON goes your dress now, Anna,” narrated Melanie as she finished playing with her favorite doll. “First your arms through the sleeves and then . . . wrap your most beautiful skirt around you; all nice in blue.”

Dishes and silverware clattered and chinked downstairs.

“Tomorrow,” Melanie carried on, “we’ll go shopping at your favorite boutique and buy you all kinds of new dresses; all for you alone. And then you’ll look your prettiest for the dinner with your friends. They’ll all be green with envy—I’ll make sure of it, even if I have to color them myself. And then . . .” She paused, trying to think what to add next.

“Mel . . . Melanie,” rang her mother’s voice from downstairs. “The table is set. Wash your hands and come and sit down.”

She hesitated for a moment, reluctant to give up so quickly.

“Melanie,” her mother called again.

“I’ll think up something tomorrow,” she assured Anna, and also partly herself.

Conforming to her mother’s wishes, she hastened out of her room and, after a quick rinse of her hands, descended the narrow flight of stairs.

“Don’t nudge the table,” Mama cautioned her from the kitchen. “Remember, it’s wobbly.”

Melanie sat down, with legs swinging. She let her eyes wander along the walls of the compact dining room, pausing at the doorways to the darkened rooms and coming to a stop at the kitchen.

“Where is everyone?” Melanie called to her mother.

“Papa and Josef are coming shortly. They went to the shop.”

“And Ofi? What about Ofi?” she asked, straining her neck. Ofi was Melanie’s nickname for her Grandfather.

“God da—” her mother muttered after a brief pause, loud enough that Melanie could hear it—or at least the first part. “Could you go fetch him for me, dear?”

“Yes, Mama,” she was quick to comply. She slipped of her seat and sought out her grandfather’s room in the darkened halls.

“Ofi, Ofi,” she called upon entering her grandfather’s room.

Ofi sat dully in his old desk chair, staring out in front of him.

Melanie approached him more calmly and gently nudged his arm. “Ofi.”

He turned to her slowly, like a door on dry hinges opening (with the squeaking of the old chair he sat on only furthering the effect) and cast large, curious eyes on her.

“What? What is it?” he asked. But before Melanie could answer, he asked in a different tone: “Is it raining outside?”

“No, Ofi . . . it’s not. Supper is ready and Mama wants us at the table. Come on.” She pulled him along by his hand. “We’re having liverwurst with cheese tonight, Ofi. Mama promised me. I asked her last week.” He nodded with an absent-minded look of curiosity.

She guided him to his seat. Mama brought in four plates, with liverwurst, cheese, and bread. Placing them down in the middle of table, she stuck out an index finger and cautioned Melanie: “Not yet, Mel.”

“Are Papa and Josef still not here?” Melanie asked.

“No, dear. But they should be here soon.”

“What are we having tonight for dinner?” Ofi asked.

“I just told you, Ofi,” Melanie protested.

“And it’s laying right in front of you,” Mama added coolly—she had already become accustomed to those antics of his.

“I don’t like to eat meat at night; it doesn’t settle well on my stomach,” he said.

“I know, Ofi. I have soup planned for you. It still needs a bit more time on the fire.”

He ran his hand over the tablecloth, noting the absence of something. “I like my soup with a glass of water.”

He looked up at Mama, who gave him a confirming look. “Well, where is it?” he inquired.

She sighed and went back into the kitchen. He carefully fidgeted around on his seat, straightening his shirt out and wiping it clean, as if only now realizing that he was wearing his current set of clothes. He then turned to Melanie and patted her on the head in a reassuring gesture of his previous show of affection towards her. She stared at him with her dark eyes, dark eyes which were one of the Levantine features she had inherited from her mother.

Mama returned and brought the water pitcher to pour him a glass. She then placed the pitcher on the table and was on the verge of sitting down when the phone rang. She hurried off to answer it.

“This water has an odd taste to it,” Ofi remarked to Melanie.

“Don’t you like it, Ofi?” she asked him.

“No, it’s alright. It just tastes different from what I recall.” He sniffed at it. “When I was young, our drinking water came straight from a spring nearby our town, not this sewer water that they give people now in these cities.”

“It’s sewer water?” Melanie exclaimed innocently, with a horror-stricken face.

“No . . .” —He chuckled his way through his words— “no, not really. I’m just exaggerating . . . a bit.” Her expression took a turn back towards normality, only to double back when he added a bit.

Ofi broke out in a louder laughter. “Sweet girl, you always make me laugh.”

When Ofi’s laughter died out, Mama’s voice became audible, sounding fretful and anxious. “Immediately? . . . Yes. Yes, alright . . . But we can’t go without you two . . . Okay. Don’t worry . . . I’ll see you there. Make sure nothing happens to Joseph.” In an unsteady whisper, she added, “I love you.”

In the dining room, Ofi inspected the dishes in the middle of the table like an art expert verifying the legitimacy of an artwork. Unlike Melanie, he seemed oblivious to what was taking place in the other room. The unease in Mama’s voice worried Melanie. She had never heard her quite like that.

A minute or two after the phone receiver clicked back on the hook, Mama reentered the dining room. Melanie’s curious eyes followed her as she came around the table and towards her.

“Melanie,” Mama said approaching, and descended into a crouch as she did so. “I want you to grab your most beloved things and put them in your schoolbag: your dolls and a few other important things. Nothing too big—so they can all fit in your bag. I will grab your clothes for you. We’re going on that trip. Remember how I told you we might go visit your cousins in Paris one of these days? Well, we finally found a train, but we’ll need to hurry otherwise we’ll miss it. Okay?”

Mama presented what seemed to Melanie like an odd smile. Melanie decided to ignore it, turning her thoughts instead to the trip to Paris. She hurried up to gather her things. First to be packed, automatically, was Anna, with wardrobe and all. She then grabbed her other dolls. And finally, a dark-green cloche hat with blue-checkered ribbon, which she treasured dearly, for it was handed down to her by her grandmother only a few weeks before her passing. Rather than wearing it Melanie placed the cloche hat in her bag.

Mama hurried into Melanie’s room, suitcase in hand, and packed all the clothes she could fit. She took Melanie by the hand and hurried back out of the room as swiftly as she had entered. Downstairs she added Ofi to the line and they left the house.

“Where are we going?” Melanie asked.

“To a tram. We’ll get on a tram and head for Aunt Vanessa’s, where we’ll meet up with Papa and Josef.”

“To Vanessa’s house?” Ofi exclaimed, halting in his steps. “I’m not going anywhere near that arrogant husband of hers.”

Mama looked back at him with a face of disbelieve. “Don’t be like that Dietrich.”

“If we’re going there, then you’ll have to go without me. I can return home by myself.” He slowly began turning around.

“No, Dietrich. Please. Now is not the time,” Mama implored him. “You have to come with us. Vanessa’s husband is not going to be there. And she herself longs to see you.”

“Oh, that’s nonsense.”

“It’ll only be for a few minutes . . . so we can meet up with Heinrich and Josef. I promise. Please, for your granddaughter’s sake, Dietrich.”

Melanie remained close to them, casting her gaze back and forth as she tried to follow their exchange of words. In between, she looked around and observed that the street was empty.

With much reluctance, which was only sufficiently reduced by the mention of Melanie, Ofi replied, “Okay, fine.”

They continued on till they reached the nearest tram stop, where they encountered a substantial crowd—given the time of day. From the briefcases and the business attire, it was apparent that the crowd consisted largely of commuters; and from what could be overheard, it seemed the tram had been severely delayed due to a disturbance somewhere along the line.

It didn’t take long after the three of them arrived before a jolt of movement passed through the crowd and announced the approach of the long-awaited tram. Mama, seemingly undeterred by the mass of people trying to reach the entryways of the tram, turned to Melanie and firmly commanded: “Don’t let go of Ofi’s hand.”

She took Melanie by her other hand, competing against the handle of Melanie’s suitcase for her grip, and began wriggling a passage through the crowd, turning the boarding of the tram into a life-and-death case. The crowd swayed from side to side as the people tottered to remain on their feet. Melanie lost her grip on her suitcase and on impulse bent down and picked it back up: first letting go of Mama’s hand and then—as the suitcase threatened to slip away from her for a second time—Ofi’s. She perceived it to take only an instant, but by the time she looked back up, Mama was out of sight—engulfed farther up ahead by the crowd—and Ofi was no longer directly behind her. She hesitated at first, but then, heeding Mama’s own words, she made her way back out of the crowd in pursuit of Ofi, whom she spotted wandering off in the direction of a crowded bar.

“Ofi, Ofi,” she shouted out after him, but her young soft voice was drowned out in between the murmuring of the bar costumers and the protests of the tram crowd.

Before she could catch up with him, he reached the bar and went in. She ran after him, with suitcase firmly gripped and her schoolbag swaying on her back. At the bar entrance, she slowed down and proceeded with caution, seeing as the place was filled from end to end with people. She passed as discreetly as she could in between them, avoiding bumping into them and as result calling attention to herself.

The bar patrons gave a friendly impression for the most part. Scattered about were some rowdy groups spasmodically making a commotion when the beer got the best of them. Bar lamps with ruffled glass shades hung down from the low ceiling and shone with a sharp, almost sparkling, brightness over and amongst the heads of the patrons.

After a bit of searching, Melanie caught sight of Ofi, sitting on a few empty crates near a corner consisting of junction between the wall and the bar counter, which spanned almost the entire width of the building. With a glass of beer in one hand and gesturing with the other hand, it appeared he had struck up a conversation with a group of young men sitting at the counter.

“Around the corner? I’ve never been to it,” said one of the young men.

“It’s the best jazz club in the entire city and, I dare say, probably the entire state.” Ofi replied.

Melanie moved with heightened caution up to Ofi, with her eyes inspecting the three young men facing him.

She tugged at the sleeve of Ofi’s coat. “Ofi,” she brought out softly, almost in a whisper, “we have to get back to the tram. To Mama. She said not to let go of your hand.”

As she spoke, her gaze remained fixed on the nearby young men and only strayed when they looked at her. Ofi took a sip of his beer and slowly oriented his gaze towards her.

“Your mother . . . Yes . . .” he reflected. “What happened to your mother, again?”

“We need to take the tram to Aunt Vanessa’s house. Mama’s at the tram.”

“We can wait for her here, then. I’m sure she’ll find us. Come on, have a seat on my lap. We might have to wait a while.”

Being shy around strangers, she felt inclined to agree with Ofi for the time being and not voice her concern any further. She climbed onto his lap.

“Is this your little girl?” one of the young men asked.

“This young darling here? She’s my granddaughter, Melanie,” Ofi said. “Greet these fellows, Mel.”

She waved timidly. And the young men introduced themselves one after the other. Hugo was the one nearest by. Martin was the youngest of the three, sitting in the middle. And Franz, who came across as sophisticated but also cordial, was the one originally speaking to Ofi.

The three of them were rather sharply dressed for their age. Each had their hair neatly combed back. And their shoes shined from a recent polish.

“And I’m Dietrich Holle,” Ofi said upon realizing he hadn’t introduced himself yet.

“What are you two doing at a bar on such a night like this?” Martin asked.

“Waiting for her mother, apparently,” Ofi responded.

“We’re going on a trip,” Melanie said excitedly, forgetting her wariness for a moment.

“Where to, if I may ask?” Martin continued.

“Paris. My cousins and uncle live there. I’ve already been there once before.”

Reversing the roles, Ofi asked, “And what brings you fellows here tonight?”

“We’re actually meeting up with our female companions here, and then we’re continuing on to some nightspot,” Martin said. “We’re not sure which yet. That was just what we were discussing when . . .”

“—I barged in?” Ofi added.

Martin laughed nervously while shaking his head. Ofi removed his concern with a casual wave of the hand.

“Well, this is the perfect opportunity to go to Das süße Leben.”

“That would be great, but we don’t know where exactly it is,” Franz said.

“Well, you’re going to have to find out if you want to keep those girls. I can show you boys to it. Like I said, it’s just around the corner; but it’s easy to miss.”

“That would be very helpful, but don’t you have to be elsewhere?” Franz asked, pointing at Ofi’s suitcase.

“Oh, no, that’s fine. We’re not in a hurry. The train leaves when it needs to leave; and we’ll be on it.”

“Do you like to dance, Melanie?” Martin asked.

Melanie shrugged. She didn’t put much thought into what Martin asked, as she was preoccupied with the thought of her mother.

Is she still at the tram? she wondered. Would she be angry with me for having let go of Ofi’s hand and for being here, sitting in this place instead of taking him back to the tram? But Ofi seems sure that it’s alright for us to be sitting here. He must have a better understanding of what’s happening. The murmuring of the bar patrons and the fact that she was sitting with Ofi at the opposite end of the bar from the entrance made it impossible for Melanie to tell what was happening outside.

“What grade are you in?” Hugo interjected through her thoughts.

“Second grade,” she responded.

“Do you enjoy school?” Martin asked.

“No, not really . . . The other kids sometimes say cruel things about my mother. They call her names and say she’s a bad person.  And sometimes they say cruel things about me, too. Because I’m her daughter they say I’m just like her, and my father, too, for having married her.”

“Why is that?” Martin inquired.

Hugo placed his hand on Martin’s shoulder, drawing his attention. Looking to his side and noticing Hugo’s lowered head, Martin withdrew his interrogative demeanor. Melanie looked around at Ofi and the three young men, observing the shifts in posture, evasive gazes wandering about, and lips pressed together with cheeks drawn back.

“But she’s not like that at all,” Melanie quickly added. “She’s a good person. She’s very nice and sweet, and she never does anything wrong. I don’t know why they say those things. But it’s not true. None of it is.”

Ofi placed a consoling hand on her head, stroking her dark-brown hair.

“When people say hurtful things like that, it’s because they don’t know any better. Don’t worry about them,” Franz said.

“It’s okay. We’re going to France now. So, it doesn’t bother me,” she said with a content smile.

The sound of heels tapping on the floor approached the patrons. Melanie cocked her head to see who it was. A group of three young women came and took their places at the young men’s side and greeted them warmly. Only one of the three girls had heels on which seemed capable of emitting such noticeable sound.

Franz introduced the young women to Melanie and Ofi: “That’s Julia, Hugo’s girlfriend. The fair-haired one next to Martin is Elsa, my little sister, and Martin’s date. And this breathtaking beauty is my fiancée, Katherine.”

“Congratulations are in order, then,” Ofi said, raising his glass.

“Girls, this is Dietrich Holle and his granddaughter, Melanie. They’re going to be showing us to a new club—well, new to us. It’s called Das süße Leben.”

“Should we immediately get going?” Katherine said.

“Are you in a hurry?” Franz asked. “We’re well on time.”

“And we should keep it that way.” In a whisper came: “And the amount of looks we’re attracting is unnerving even for my taste. I told you we should stop coming to this place.”

Franz eyes scanned the bar and took notice of what Katherine was referring to.

Ofi brought a swift end to the subject by adding, “The young lady speaks wisely: when you’re young there is no time to waste.”

They all headed out together, with Das süße Leben as destination. Outside, Melanie caught sight of the tram stop, fairly bare and without a sign of her mother. For a moment she tugged at Ofi’s hand, thinking of running off towards the tram stop, but checked herself upon realizing she wouldn’t know what to do upon reaching that desolate spot.

In a small alley which stopped in a dead-end halfway through the block, they came up to a red double-door which was designated by no more than an oval signboard with the name Das süße Leben written in black-letter typeface and set on a green background.

“Is it here?” Hugo asked. Ofi nodded. “It’s quite secluded. No wonder we haven’t been here before.”

“There’s a front door that faces the street, but that’s only opened on special occasions and for planned events,” Ofi explained.

Franz and Martin opened the door and held it open for the others. Melanie stepped inside, with Ofi encouraging her forward.

She was confronted with the sight of young people dancing in a most carefree way. Girls smiled while preforming moves devoid of any apparent reasoning. The boys moved with them while taking in the girls’ exhibition of new found freedom. They never stood still, never stopped to consider their next move, but instead continued in an endless flow of motion.

Ofi went in search of a free table to sit at. Melanie trailed behind him without for an instant taking her eyes of the dancers. Franz and Katherine followed the two of them while the other four didn’t waste any time and promptly moved to the dance floor.

“For a jazz club, this is quite an impressive venue,” Franz said.

“One of the men who co-owned this place was a good friend of mine. He passed not too long ago. This hall is only about ten years old. In the beginning, it was used for various kinds of dancing. As it was a new club, the owners decided to try out what was emerging at the time, jazz. It was a hit with the customers. And it’s been this hall’s niche ever since.”

“Everyone seems to be giving it their all. They’re not holding back,” Katherine remarked.

“I’ve seen it all the time. Once they get a feel for the fast, flowing melody, it’ll start to look like they’ve been doing this all their lives.”

“Do you like to dance to this kind of music too? Do you come here often?” Franz asked.

“Since the opening, my wife and I would drop in every now and again and have a few drinks and watch the young couples in the prime of their life and reminisce about that of our own. But by that time, my wife and I already had too many stiff joints to dance in such an erratic fashion.”

“Erratic? You say that almost disapprovingly,” Franz said.

“Well, you know what I mean. I say so only, probably, because I can’t experience it myself—an old man’s bitterness.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. You said it yourself about getting a feel for the music.”

“Oh, no.” Ofi waved dismissively. “I’ve been feeling the music all this time, but my aging body has long ago turned a deaf ear to it. And what about you two? Aren’t you going to dance?”

“I’m not sure if we should,” Franz said. “We recently heard from our doctor that we’re expecting a child.” An enthusiastic smile appeared on his face as he glanced at Katherine, who shared the expression. “It’s still rather early, but I’m already starting to take precautions.”

“But, Franz,” Katherine cried, with a seducing air. “I intend to dance tonight. I’m sure nothing will happen; I’ll be careful.”

“I’m sure no wrong will come of it,” Ofi said. “However, I would recommend leaving behind those shoes, though.” He pointed out Katherine’s stilettos. “They look like a sprained ankle waiting to happen.”

She gracefully slipped them off, keeping her legs together. Franz got up and offered his hand. “Shall we?” he said. She took his hand, with a playful smile, and they moved to the dance floor just in time for the start of a new song.

Ofi lay back in his chair and sighed softly. “Are you thirsty?” he asked Melanie.

She shook her head swiftly, unable to pry her eyes away from the dance floor for even a second. And now that Katherine and Franz had taken to the floor, there was a clear favorite in her eyes. With sheer black hair, Katherine reminded Melanie of her mother. Melanie watched on in silent awe as Katherine flowed with the music. Her dress, yellow and with a ruffled skirt section, glided over the reflective parquet floor. Her expression retained a playful smile throughout.

“They’re really enjoying themselves. It’s all about letting go and being free. Just doing what you feel like doing. Someday you’ll see for yourself, when you’re out there dancing on that parquet floor.”

“Really?” Melanie asked wide-eyed, looking away from the dance floor for the first time.

“Of course. Why not?”

She smiled coyly, and returned to watching the dancers.

“Mr. Holle, it’s a pleasure to have you drop by,” said a deftly dressed man standing next to Ofi.

Ofi hadn’t noticed him approaching, almost prompting him to jump out of his chair—which he would have done if his reflexes were as fast as they had once been. A relieved smile appeared on Ofi’s face upon realizing who the man was.

“Max Breker,” Ofi said. “Good to see you again.”

“Enjoying yourself?”

“As always.”

“Good to hear. Is there anything I could get you?”

“No, no. I’m fine.”

“How’s the family doing?”

“Good. All is good,” Ofi responded while nodding. “Have a seat—have a seat. You are the manager; you shouldn’t be standing there like some servant.”

Mr. Breker took a seat next to Ofi, facing the dance floor.

“This is my granddaughter, Melanie,” Ofi pointed out.

She turned around and waved.

“You two are at a club on a school night?” Mr. Breker asked.

“She has a few days off,” Ofi said.

“Off? Now?”

“Since yesterday.”

“Yesterday? Oh, yes, yesterday. I saw that in the newspaper. It’s horrible news. Soon there’ll be no end to what they’ll do . . . and get away with.” He shook his head in discontent.

“I take it that you spend a lot of your time in this place, and little elsewhere.”

“Well, I take this job very seriously . . . and this club.”

“It does show. You’ve really improved the place. The lighting has become something I wouldn’t ever have imagined. And I’ve heard that plenty of popular artists and bands are coming through here. You ought to be careful with that, though; you don’t want this place to be ruined by the infectious mediocrity of a mainstream crowd.”

“I know what you mean,” Mr. Breker said, reading into some subtext that may or may not have been there. “It’s a Wednesday, so it’s is one of the calmer nights. But either way, I try not to let them bother me. I’m sure it’s something that will pass with time, this mania of theirs. Although, lately, the situation is becoming a bit too precarious, if you ask me. Those Na—”

Ofi swiftly cut Mr. Breker off and changed the direction of the conversation: “Is this band going to play something a bit mellower tonight?”

Caught by surprise, Mr. Breker slowly uttered, “I wouldn’t bet on it. They’re not quite the type. Why? Would you want to make a request? I could arrange it.”

“No, no need. I was just wondering.”

After a moment passed and silence settled in, Mr. Breker tried to return to the previous matter: “Those Nationalists are truly—”

Ofi interrupted him again: “Please, Breker.” With a stern look directed out in front of him, Ofi said, “I don’t wish to speak of politics on such a night like this.”

“Oh, sorry,” Mr. Breker said in all sincerity. “It would never be my intention to—” He stopped mid-sentence and looked to his side, behind and past Ofi.

Mr. Breker’s abrupt silence prompted Ofi to turn and follow Mr. Breker’s gaze. Melanie followed Ofi’s example. Mr. Breker’s eyes were focused on the front entrance double doors, which were locked as accustomed. It sounded like someone, or something, was banging on the doors, but this was hard to distinguish over the music. The three of them looked curiously on at the doors, waiting to see if the noise would grow louder and confirm itself. The doors began to shake as the banging settled down and became more tactical: what began as random thuds now turned into one collective bump in rhythmic succession. They were coming through.

The double doors swung open violently and slammed against the wall. The band’s playing came to an abrupt halt. The dancers stopped and stared toward the front doorway, where a group of men in civilian apparel with belligerent intentions present on their faces now stood.

Mr. Breker sprang up from his chair and, approaching the men with firm steps, exclaimed: “What in God’s name are you attempting here?”

Three men stepped forward. The middle one spoke: “Mr. Breker, this club you run and the behavior perpetrated within it are an abomination and an utter disgrace to our community, city, and great nation as a whole. For far too long this heathenish music and vulgar dancing has been supported by way of your corrupt dealings. We have come here tonight—”

“With what right?” Mr. Breker exclaimed, cutting the man’s speech off. “You have no right to burst into my club like this. You’re trespassing here.” He extended a hand with upturned palm, pleading with the man’s empathy. “Mr. Lammers, countless times, while on my way to this very club, I’ve stopped and bought produce at your store, around the corner. Yet on this night you come tearing through my doors and speak all sorts of folly of my livelihood, prompting me to ask you: With what right?”

“Mr. Breker, as lawful citizens we have the right to hinder the illicit acts of those who break the law—and you are in no way exempted from that. And as dictated by the Reichstag, the performing of that degenerate African music is a debasement of our true Germanic culture. Rumor has it you even had the brazen audacity to have black musicians performing here recently. This operation you’ve been running here is highly illegal. We will be acting well within our rights by shutting this club down and by reporting all those present here tonight to the authorities.” He turned to command his motley crew. “Start making lists of the names, and place all the Jews and other degenerates under arrest, beginning with Mr. Breker.”

The crowd of clubbers broke out in a murmur of panic and outrage as the group of militant citizens spread out and advanced, equipped with rope, crowbars, makeshift wooden clubs, and pistols. With the dance floor being surrounded, the crowd retreated and contracted. The militants started pulling the crowd apart for interrogation. But before long, some resisted and threw out the first punches and kicks. Fights broke out. The wooden clubs were brought into use while those with firearms stood back issuing verbal threats, but were not as reckless as to deliver on them.

Ofi got up and grabbed Melanie by the arm. “We’re leaving,” he said firmly.

“What about Franz, Katherine, and the others?” Melanie asked.

“They’ll make it out just fine. Don’t worry about them now.”

As he led her to the side entrance, which had gone unnoticed by the militants, she took quick glances over her shoulder at the scuffle between the crowd and the militants. Martin, Julia, Hugo, and Elsa were near the edge of the two intertwined parties, fairly out of danger. It took Melanie a moment to spot Franz and Katherine, caught up near the middle. Franz stood in front of Katherine in an attempt to shield her from the chaotic scene that encompassed them.

Melanie turned around and checked her last few steps towards the door, for an instant losing sight of what was going on. As she placed her hand on the doorpost, a shriek rang out through the spacious hall. In Melanie’s ears, a familiar female voice rose above all others. Melanie stopped abruptly—with Ofi still holding onto her by the hand—and looked back with a horror-stricken face.

Katherine was standing with her hands stretched out in front of her in a gesture of pleading mercy while Franz lay unconscious on the ground next to her. A man of crude appearance stood opposite her, with a crowbar hanging along his side. He swung back and thrust the curved end into her abdomen. A short-lived gasp rolled free from her mouth, echoing as it bounced off the brick walls. Katherine fell to her knees, doubled over, and clutched her midriff.

What came to follow with Katherine and the others went by without Melanie as witness, as Ofi yanked her out of the doorway and into the dark ally.

“We have to get as far away from here as possible,” he said to her as they hurried out into the street and took any direction which fled the club.

Their steps resonated in the bareness of the city’s corridors as they hastened through one street and into another. They slowed down upon entering a desolate middleclass neighborhood. The streets here were engulfed in blackness and vaguely defined by glimmers of light hidden in the corner of a porch, abandoned behind an opaque window, trapped in the glass casing of a lamppost.

After what seemed like a decade of aimless wandering, Ofi stopped and said, “Are you hungry?”

Melanie shrugged.

“You must be. We haven’t eaten anything tonight. And I know I’m hungry. I think there’s a cheap restaurant nearby.”

They headed there, discovering it to be located on the corner of an intersection. They settled in a booth, sitting opposite each other.

“What do you want to eat?” Ofi asked her.

She didn’t answer. Her forehead—which barely made it over the tabletop as she sat hunched-over—hovered above her place mat.

A waitress came over and asked the customary “May I take your order?”

Ofi looked over at Melanie and hesitated to answer.

“Oh, I know,” he said in a moment of clarity. “Could you bring her some liverwurst and cheese on bread? And I would like some pea soup, with bread only, no meat.”

The waitress gave a single nod and walked away.

“That’s what you wanted, right?” Ofi asked Melanie. “Tonight . . . for supper, right?”

She remained unchanged.

Ofi sighed and lay back in his seat. He attempted to make conversation: “So, how’s it going with your dolls? What’s the one’s name again? Anna, right? Any new dresses you need me to approve of?”

A gleam appeared on Melanie’s cheek, but it wasn’t until it began sliding down that he realized that she was crying. Her head sagged down lower as she tried to conceal it.

“Why are you crying?” he asked with unaccustomed gentleness. “What is it? Aren’t you hungry? Or do you want something else to eat?”

She shook her head hopelessly and stammered her way through a whimper: “One—one of those men struck Franz to the floor . . . and then hit Katherine very hard in her belly.” She lifted her head, showing her tear-stained face. “Didn’t you see it, Ofi?”

“No . . . I didn’t see it,” he said and got up and moved over to her side of the booth, scooting up next to her.

“You must have,” she continued.

He pulled her closer and pressed her head against his chest. “I swear, I didn’t see it,” he said. “I was already out the door and couldn’t see what was happening inside the club anymore. I couldn’t catch sight of any of it.”

“We should’ve gone to the police. We should go back. What about the baby? Would it have gotten hurt? Because, he hit her right in the belly.”

Ofi hesitated a moment before answering, “I’m sure the baby wasn’t harmed. I’m sure they’re all alright. Don’t worry about it anymore; it’s over now. It’s all over,” he hushed her while stroking her hair. In his own thoughts he did his best to convince himself that there truly was nothing he could have done, regardless of what he had or hadn’t seen.

The waitress brought them their orders.

Ofi said to Melanie, “Dry off your cheeks and enjoy your meal. You’ve been waiting an entire week for this. As soon as you begin eating, you’ll start to feel better—I guarantee it. And don’t worry about Katherine and the others; they’ll be fine.”

She pulled out a slice of bread and began nibbling it. And while staring down at the plate in front of her, she tried to distract her thoughts from the current situation. The soft pink of the liverwurst lying on top of the yellow cheese brought her back to the week before, when she had put forward the request and, to her surprise, got Mama’s approval. With what had been going on at school, it was a pleasant reminder of what it felt like to have some—if only minor—control over her own life. Her longing for the fulfillment of that simple request warped all events between last week and the current moment. She gathered the liverwurst and cheese into a sandwich and ate it with resolution.

When she finished, Ofi remarked: “That was fast. See, I told you it would make you feel better.”

Melanie smiled at him. They sat next to each other, with her suitcase in between them and her satchel at her other side.

“So, how is it going with Anna, your doll?” Ofi asked again.

“Mama said she would take me to the boutique tomorrow to look for some new dresses for Anna, but I’m not sure what will happen now that we’re going to France.”

“Well, Paris has countless boutiques. Your mother would have to go out of her way to not walk into one,” Ofi said.

“When are we going?” she asked.

“Tonight, I would guess.”

“Won’t we miss the train, then?”

“Oh, no, you don’t have to worry about that. If we don’t go tonight, we’ll just take tomorrow’s train. Besides, we’ll get to the train station soon enough. We’ll head straight there after we leave this restaurant.”

“No, Ofi. We need to go to aunt Vanessa’s house first. That’s what Mama told us. Don’t you remember?”

“Oh, right . . .” He paused to collect his vague memories. “We’ll do that, then.” He motioned to the waitress for the bill.

“We should get going,” he said in a half-questioning manner to Melanie.

After paying the bill and gathering their luggage, they were back to walking through the streets; as Melanie supposed, in direction of Aunt Vanessa’s house, but it was hard to tell, as she didn’t know the city streets very well. Not too far away from the restaurant, Ofi came to a stop in front of a chocolate shop. It seemed to be of some prestige, with the name in big, bold, gold letters on top, giving it rather the appearance of a jewelry store.

“What do you say to an exquisite dessert?” Ofi asked.

“Won’t it be pricey?”

“Nonsense. When it comes to chocolate, there’s no such thing as too expensive.”

“Mama and Papa don’t seem to think so.”

“That’s because they still have much to learn.”

“Maybe I should stroll with you more often, Ofi,” she said with an innocent wittiness.

They entered the chocolate shop with Ofi laughing on indiscreetly. Sitting on red stools behind a U-shaped counter on opposite ends were two salespersons, a man and a woman. The shop room itself wasn’t as big as the façade of the building would suggest. Cabinets with transparent glass shelves—upon which boxes and packets of chocolate lay in storage—ran along the walls, removing any sense of spaciousness there might’ve been. Ofi approached the nearest salesperson, the woman.

“How may I be of service?” the saleswoman asked while diligently scanning them from head to toe and taking special notice of their luggage.

Melanie went along the U-shaped counter, visually absorbing the selection of chocolates on display. As she passed by the salesman, they inadvertently exchanged glances while he was in the midst of eyeing her satchel.

“Since this is a chocolate shop, we would like to browse and purchase some chocolate,” Ofi replied.

Ofi’s mocking answer made the saleswoman realize that he was irritated by the prying gazes. “Yes, of course. What kind, sir? Did you have something in mind?”

“Not quite. Maybe something with . . .” He paused and thought carefully for a moment before turning around and calling Melanie over. “What kinds of chocolate would you like?” he asked her.

“Ones with peanuts would be nice,” she said.

“Peanuts? Oh, you mean those with almonds and other types of nuts?”

She nodded.

“Those are quite nice,” he said. “Good choice. And? . . . What else would you like, dear?”

Melanie’s eyes widened with surprise and delight, and as much as she tried she couldn’t prevent a giddy smile from manifesting. “With caramel,” she said.

“Another good one.” He eyed the saleswoman to signify that those would indeed be their choices.

“We carry a wide selection of chocolates which contain a nut or caramel center. Did you have anything specific in mind, sir?” the saleswoman asked.

“No, just give us the best you carry.”

“And how many, sir?”

“Two packs of each.”

The saleswoman went along the shelves picking out the choices with the help of the salesman, who seemed reluctant to move from his spot and divert his eyes from the customers.

When the saleswoman returned, Ofi added, “Give me a box of Belgian chocolates, as well.”

Ofi paid with ease, as if he had money to waste; but in reality, he was now left with little more than change in his wallet. They left the store with paper bags up to their elbows and returned to walking through the streets.

“Now we’re going to Aunt Vanessa, right?” Melanie asked.

“Yes.”

“Are we close by?”

“Don’t you know where her house is?”

“Yes . . . But I don’t know where we are.”

He chuckled nervously. “To tell you the truth, I’m not all that sure, either.”

“Are we lost?” she asked with some concern.

“No . . . no. From the chocolate shop back there, I can tell we’ve entered one of the wealthy neighborhoods of the city. Just look at these buildings and this neatly paved brick road and sidewalk.”

Melanie took notice: every building looked like either a five-star hotel or a jewelry store, while the road seemed fit for comfortable barefoot walking.

“So, with that information, I at least know in which part of the city we are; and as result, I know what general direction we should take.”

“You really are smart, Ofi.”

“Of course I am,” he said chuckling. “Did you hear otherwise? I’m forgetful, not dimwitted; don’t get those two confused.”

As they continued making their way through the wealthy district, on two occasions they came across a neighborhood watchman, who cast suspicious, almost condemning, eyes on them but in the end went on by without uttering a word. Ofi did what he could by putting a hint of high-class bravado in his step and letting the chocolate store bags hang more conspicuously in front of the luggage.

Approaching the edge of the wealthy neighborhood, a monotonous whistling became audible as they passed in front of a clothing store. Before they could stop and seek out the source, the whistling ceased and an irresolute voice ordered, “Hey, you. Hey, you two. Halt.”

Puzzled, Ofi and Melanie stopped and turned around to face the store. At a sideward glance, nothing had seemed out of the ordinary with the store, but a more thorough scan revealed the glass panes of the display windows had been smashed in and the door had been rammed open and left hanging on a single hinge. It quickly became apparent why the store hadn’t originally aroused their suspicion: the display windows were set at a diagonal angle, allowing the shards of shattered glass to fall inside the display gallery rather than on the sidewalk.

A man approached, obscured in shadows. He took a few quick glances over his shoulder before stopping midway on route to the front of the store in a poorly lit spot.

“Good evening,” he said with a devious sense of politeness. “Nice night, isn’t it? Beautiful night, in fact.”

Someone from the back shouted something at the man, followed by laughter. The man glanced back and waved out of frustration.

“Where are you going?” he asked Ofi and Melanie.

Without answering, Ofi continued looking at the man squarely, trying to make out the details of his face.

“Do you have papers? And if so, may I see them?” the man queried on.

“Why should I show my papers to you? Sorry, but so far you’ve failed to identify yourself . . . if you’re still unaware,” Ofi said.

The man took a few steps forward, revealing his person more clearly. He was wearing civilian clothes and carried a wooden club which upon further inspection seemed to be nothing more than a detached table leg. He appeared to be barely out of his teens.

“I’m SS-Oberscharführer Kerner. I highly recommend you do as I say . . . to avoid any inconvenience, for either of us.” A smirk manifested on his face, and he took on a malevolent pose which didn’t seem all that convincing except to himself.

Another shout came, but this time it was louder: “Hurry up, you moron. Drop the theatrics and do it right.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s doing,” another voice said.

Without bothering to turn around and protest, the alleged officer said to Ofi in dry tone, “If you’re not willing to show me your papers, I will have to arrest you.”

“What identification do you have to verify your position?” Ofi asked.

“We are currently working incognito and are therefore not required to present any form of identification to civilians. Now give me your papers or face further action.”

“I have my papers right here.” Ofi tapped on the inner breast pocket of his coat.

“Step in here and present them to me.”

Ofi placed his suitcases on the ground and kneeled down to address Melanie. “Wait for me here. Okay, Mel?”

As he was about to pull away, Melanie grabbed his hand, forcibly calling his attention. “Don’t go, Ofi,” she pleaded with a frail voice. “Don’t go in there with those men.” Her eyes welled up with tears, but she was too tense with fright to let them stream free. She could only think back on what happened earlier that night. This time they were alone.

“It’ll be alright, dear. Nothing bad will happen,” he said.

He slipped his arm loose from her grip and walked in between the two large vacant windows. He presented his passport to the man. The man scanned the small document, made a pensive face, and revised it more meticulously after having failed to find anything incriminating the first time through. Disappointed, he returned it to Ofi. He peered into the darkness behind him and, like an evocation, hastened footsteps came in direction for the front. A somewhat irritated man came up next to the sergeant and grabbed the papers from him. He wasn’t much older than the other man.

SS-Hauptsturmführer Stärcke,” he curtly introduced himself.

“If you’re currently incognito, why would you give away your names?” Ofi inquired with a false naivety.

“They’re pseudonyms . . . of course.” He threw Ofi a cross last glance before returning his gaze to the documents, and asked: “Where are you heading? Or maybe I should ask: why are you carrying suitcases?”

“We’re going to visit some relatives in France.”

“At this time of night?”

“There were no other departure times available.”

“Where in France?” he asked as he looked the papers over for a second time. From just the puzzled expression on his face, it was clear to see that he was having difficulty reaching a conclusion on whether to let Ofi go.

“The capital, Paris.”

“Why? Isn’t the Fatherland beautiful and magnificent enough to please your taste? What does France have to offer that the Fatherland doesn’t?” he asked Ofi. He then promptly confirmed those questions to be rhetorical by not waiting for an answer, and proceeded: “Either way . . .”

“Hold on a minute,” Kerner said. “I know who this man is. His son took that bike shop in Orestesstraße over from that old Jew, Strauss. Not only that, but he actually married the Jew’s daughter.”

“That’s quite something.” Stärcke nodded slowly, while scanning Ofi’s facial expression. “I take it your son wanted to marry in order to take over the shop. But what about Strauss and the daughter? Was it their futile attempt to try and cleanse her blood?” In a half-sarcastic tone, he remarked to Kerner: “If only it worked like that.” And then vaguely addressing both Ofi and Kerner and neither at the same time: “A Jewess with not enough backbone to stand amongst her own kind; even they themselves now see the error of their ways. Jewish law dictates that the mother carries the Jewish blood.”

“But it’s the Nuremburg laws that govern,” Ofi retorted. “I’m surprised to hear that you’re so familiar with Jewish scripture and for even a moment dare to exalt it over the Reich’s ruling.”

“You may not appear a Jew, but you certainly sling filth like one. Don’t mistake yourself for a second; your papers might not have you designated as a Jew, and you might not even have a single drop of Jewish blood secretly coursing through your veins, but that doesn’t spare you from being associated with that fiendish race. And just the same as them, you’ll be imprisoned.”

“How dimwitted do you think I am, to not realize you two are not SS members? You two are no more than a group of reckless boys who think you are in one of those picture shows you go see every Friday. It would suit you best to let me go, before I report you for vandalism and impersonating paramilitary officers.”

“What makes you think that we need uniforms or a title to do what is right?” Stärcke said. He lifted his shirt to let show the gleaming leather of a black pistol-butt.

As this verbal exchange had gone on, Melanie looked on in fear. The two men continued to stare Ofi down. She looked from side to side, checking both ways of the street; there was no one. Her arms shivered at her side, but her chest felt too heavy to shiver along with them. As the two men neared Ofi, one of them glanced sternly over at her. As Ofi’s stance became more stressed, her fear grew wild. She hadn’t the slightest idea what was taking place (or about to take place) and this fed her sense of unrest all the more. She became oblivious to the scene in front of her as she slipped into deep thought.

Are they going to hurt him? Are they going to hurt me? Why are they talking to him? He did nothing wrong. He’s the best grandfather there is, and a good person who’s always kind. So is mama . . . And papa . . . And Josef. They’re all kind people. Why won’t people see this? Maybe it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have let go of Ofi’s and mama’s hand at the tram. She’s probably very angry with me now. I made a mistake . . . and now Ofi might get taken away because of it, because of me.

It all struck her now. It was as if she had been walking on a taut high-wire all that night, going along with Ofi’s will without thinking the consequences through or even realizing there were any at times, and now standing still at a seeming dead-end, she looked down at the distant ground below and behind her at the far out of reach starting point.

The man glowered at her once more and her mind was pushed to its limit. All her thoughts blended into one and her instinct took over. Without a single instant of hesitation, she darted off down the street, suitcases and bags still in hand. She ran for her life and more, with her eyes filling up with clinging tears. As she slipped out of the street, a bang broke through the clicking of her shoes on the pavement.

She made her way into a small park, scarcely lit with softly glowing lamps. A white structure reflected an aura of pale light. Melanie approached it. It was a gazebo on a raised platform, vacant and with no light emitting from within. She climbed the steps and slid onto the bench along the inside of the perimeter. For the first time, she wanted to be alone in the dark—not knowing who to turn to, who to trust. She suppressed her emotions and gave in to the sounds of her surroundings. Time seemed to stall. Every second seemed to wait on the bellowing of the wind. The foliage of the shrubs and trees nearby rustled softly, like voices hushing her absent weeping.

I might be able to find my way home . . . if I ask for help. Mama always said to go to the police if I got lost. But can I trust the police? Those two men said they were the police. I could go back home on my own, she tried to assure herself. Or maybe Mama and Papa will find me if I just stay here. And if they ask about Ofi? I left him there with those men. I left him. I am a bad person; my schoolmates were right.

A dark figure came up the steps. A raspy voice sounded: “Mel, thank God I found you. You should never run away from me like that.”

She slowly lifted her head and looked up at a shadowy face casting a faint cloud of condensed breath. All her fears and hopelessness came rushing out in an overwhelming outpouring of tears. Ofi put aside his frustration and gave her his empathy. He sat down beside her.

“Don’t cry. That’s too many tears for one night. Why are you crying? Were you scared? Is that why you ran?” There was a sense of guilt in his voice.

“I-I’m sor-sorry,” she stammered out amongst her tears.

“It’s okay. It’s okay.” He consoled her. “You just have to promise never to do that again. I can’t have you wandering through the city by yourself at night.”

“I’m sorry I left you Ofi,” she said.

“No, it’s okay. I understand you were afraid. You don’t have to cry or even worry; just don’t do it again.”

“I won’t,” she said shaking her head and pushing her tear-stained face against his coat.

He held her close and stroked her hair. “I know what will cheer you up.” With his free hand, he reached into one of the brown paper bags, pulled out a box of chocolates, and placed it on her lap. “Exchange your tears for some smiles,” he said absentmindedly. He wriggled his handkerchief free from out of his pant pocket and wiped her face dry with it.

The chocolate box remained on her lap unopened, prompting him to open it himself. He tried to persuade her by holding a chocolate nugget in front of her quivering lips. The aroma of chocolate wafted up to her nose. She grabbed the nugget and slipped it into her mouth. After a delay, her jaws awakened.

Hearing a crunch, he said, “Did you get one with a nut in it? You shouldn’t be eating one of those when your throat is strained from crying; it might whirl you into a coughing fit. Here, take one of the smooth, Belgian ones instead. They’re without a doubt the best.”

He rummage in the papers bags and pulled out one box after the other repeatedly as he struggled with deciphering the printings on the boxes in the dim lighting. He handed her the right box, and held onto another box for himself. With their faces veiled in shadows, only the smacking of their mouths confirmed to each other that they were both enjoying the chocolates.

He cleared his throat. “Caramel always dries the roof of my mouth and the back of my throat.”

“That’s because you eat it too quickly,” she murmured softly.

“You might be right,” he said, and stuffed the box back into the bag. Then he, without explaining his intentions, turned to her satchel and pulled forward her doll Anna. “Here she is. I hear she’s been living a lucrative life lately, thanks to you.” He gently nudged Melanie. “If only I was one of your dolls as well. A comfortable life I would’ve led.”

“But then you wouldn’t get to make any decisions—you’d be a puppet, and I could make you do whatever I want,” she remarked.

“Maybe that might be the foremost blessing of it all.”

She presented a confused face, but he didn’t catch sight of it, for he reverted to her satchel and came across the cloche hat. After fondly handling the soft fabric between his fingers, he donned her head with it. But as it was too large, it settled with the brim situated halfway over her eyes. She looked at him with a smile on her face, snuggled underneath the cloche hat.

“I bought that for your grandmother when we visited Berlin, as a wedding-anniversary present (she didn’t care too much for jewelry) at a posh women’s boutique which imported the newest styles directly out of Paris—ahead of the arrival of any trend. At that time it was sleek black and then, with the passing of time and frequent use, it faded to this dark forest green as the shimmering layer, achieved with a technique which was just surfacing at the time, drained out of the high quality felt, made from a type of very fine wool called merino. That strongly perfumed salesman stared at me with such intensity that I could hardly forget a word he said. He went on and on with so many details and elaborations that I couldn’t stop myself from buying it, even though I had already spotted something else which was more to my liking.” He suddenly broke out in a hearty laugh, but a short-lived one. “And now I can’t help but reminisce about your grandmother as I see that worn-out hat.” He readjusted the cloche hat on her head.

“Ofi, when will we meet up with Mama again?” she asked concernedly.

“Don’t worry. You shouldn’t worry. You shouldn’t ever be afraid of anything. Okay, Mel?”

He drew a deep breath. “That house over there . . .” he pointed out. “Could you take a look at it for me? My eyes aren’t too good. It seems familiar. I have a feeling we’re nearby.”

She walked over to the entrance of the gazebo and peered out in the direction Ofi was referring to. It dawned on her, the house, with its stoop light shining like a beacon through the trees, indeed did look familiar. And as she looked around she began to recognize the park itself. They were in front of Aunt Vanessa’s house.

“Ofi, we’re here,” she called. “We’re finally here.” She looked back, but Ofi didn’t seem to react.

With her eyes trained on him at a sideward angle, she approached him. She sat down at his side while keeping her eyes on his face, veiled in darkness. After scooting up closer, she grabbed his hand and rested her head against his upper arm.

While her head leaned sideways against Ofi, her eyes found comfort in a glimmer coming from the window of a store tucked away in a corner of the block. She slowly realized that the window was broken. The shattered glass lay on the ground, with each shard refracting and reflecting to its own will the light coming from a lamppost nearby, each giving its own account of the light’s trajectory. Ofi’s hand became uncomfortably cold, causing her to release her grip. She looked up one more time before grabbing her suitcase and the paper bags and walking out of the gazebo, through the park, and up to Aunt Vanessa’s house.

Standing in the porch light, she looked back at the white pavilion and discovered it to be empty. She wondered if he was still in that street, if the shockwave of the gun report had finally caught up with him and taken him away.

The door behind her opened to a vision of Aunt Vanessa, mouthing: “Thank God you’re here. We’ve been worried sick about you.” The words didn’t register. Melanie looked back at where her grandfather had once been.

___

Brian Römmer was born on the Caribbean island of Curaçao.

Beignets

By William B. Robison

She doesn’t know—nasal Ivy Leaguer in line

ahead of me at Café du Monde who’s asking

what’s so special about a dough wad fried in grease—

 

that Decatur Street and the whole heathen Quarter

stayed high and dry as radio Jeremiahs

raged, sniffing for Sodom’s sulfur in the whirlwind

 

how Johnny White’s gave the fickle finger to fear

its doors open upon God-forsaken Bourbon

sazeracs for beggars, transvestites, and guardsmen

 

about transcending the rooftop rapes, bloated floaters

sad-faced boatmen, pleading mothers, wild-eyed children

exiled busloads with gang signs and crucifixes

 

the taste of gumbo made with everything thawing

sweat and warm beer, straining to hear the transistor

spray-painting plywood with warnings and epitaphs

 

what it’s like to drive your too skinny sister home

past army trucks with red-bereted machine gunners

to a flat where ceiling tiles hide the kitchen floor

 

the rage as compassion curdles into contempt

and smart-mouthed pundits sneer: why don’t they stop whining?

let’s close down the port and see who bellyaches then

 

that blues is not some colloquial artifact

trotted out for visitors but a wolfish howl

of pain and ecstasy wrenched from history’s belly

 

how the returning faithful saluted Jackson

with red-rimmed eyes and took the sacrament twice

with St Louis’ wine and then café au lait

 

why grown men with bodies as hard as the iron fence

around the square wept when the Saints went marching in

she doesn’t know what it means to miss . . . well, you know

___

William B. Robison is Professor of History and Head of the Department of History and Political Science at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he teaches British and Early Modern European History. He earned the PhD at LSU (1983) and is co-editor (with Ronald H. Fritze) of the Historical Dictionary of Stuart England (1996) and Historical Dictionary of Late Medieval England (2002); co-author (with Sue Parrill) of The Tudors on Film and Television (McFarland 2013), for which he maintains the website www.tudorsonfilm.com; author of articles on early modern England, film history, and popular culture; and editor of a forthcoming volume of essays tentatively titled “The Tudors,” Sex, Politics, and Power: History, Fiction, and Artistic License in Showtime’s Television Series. He regularly lectures publically, conducts Readings in Literature and Culture programs for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (most recently “Elizabeth I of England and Her Time”), is a musician and maker of short films, and has poems published or forthcoming in Amethyst Arsenic, amphibi.us, Anemone Sidecar, Apollo’s Lyre, Asinine Poetry, Burningword Literary Journal, Carcinogenic Poetry, Children Churches and Daddies, Coe Review, decomP magazinE, Forge, Mayday Magazine, Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine, On Spec, and Paddlefish. He and his family live in Baton Rouge.

Learning to Drive Home from the Bar

By Erika D. Price

MAY JEAN, age twelve, sits on the white-washed porch of the Swamp Fox Inn waiting for her parents and picking at her scabs in the glow of the Milky Way. Miles from any city of any size, the starlight is immense even in the moon’s absence. A superstitious child, she’s glad there’s no moon this evening.

Inside the Swamp Fox, her parents quarrel and dance. Her mother, Opal, is radiant in pin curls and downtown makeup, swiveling generous hips to the garbled sounds of an old record. In the dimness of the inside, her cheaply rouged cheeks are like thick, purple peaches. Gazing in the door, May Jean watches her mother guffaw and stomp and clutch closely against a man in oil-stained overalls. May Jean squints to see past her mother, past her spinning and spinning with the man, their hands intertwined, the music sinking under the din of glasses and laughter and the stomping of gravelly boots. Her father can’t be seen.

She waits on the porch in her pedal-pushers, and runs a bored hand through the damp bluegrass. She’s used to waiting here. Once, she tried taking off her sweater and bunching it into a pillow so she could sleep a spell on the deck. It had proven too loud. May Jean was used to sleeping to the drone of crickets and the twinkle of rain, and could stop her ears effectively against hollering when it was only two people. Here, in town, outside the bar, the drunken human sounds were multiplied to cacophony. It was too dark to read and too bright and loud to properly doze. She sure didn’t want to watch the revelry in there, either.

*

The Swamp Fox Inn was a rickety operation on a dirt path just off the Big Rock Mountain. May Jean and her parents lived in a shack on the mountain’s other edge, meaning over the mountain, which was accessible only by a thin strip of road that ran up and along the folds of the mountain’s curved sides. Her daddy, Malus, worked in the mines on that side of the mountain, and their home was in a muddy clearing with about two dozen other mining families. That was the whole population—some miners, their wives and kids, and hundreds of useless green crabapple trees. They all built their one-room shacks together in the clearing, without disturbing the plants or troubling to build a city hall, or their own bar, or anything else. They called it Crab Orchard.

All the men toiled in the mountain’s shadow by day, and travailed its precarious sides in search of the Swamp Fox by night. Mostly their wives and children didn’t accompany them. They waited in their shacks or out on their sun-burnt lawns, sipping rubbing alcohol and lemonade out of mason jars and drooling rivulets of tobacco onto their cotton hammocks all night, too bleary by the time their husbands returned to make any proper note of it. No housewife bounded out of her stupor and ran across the clearing to her husband, remarking how relieved she was he made it back across safely despite his having drunk a half-gallon of bathtub gin.

Nor did anyone blame the mountain’s craggy sides when a man sometimes failed to return, and was presumed by the community to have plummeted over Big Rock Mountain’s edge. Perhaps the drink was blamed, but if so, it was done with dripping-dry irony, mentioned blithely as the town’s women sipped their own drinks and clucked with gossip while hanging lines of wash. No one ever seemed perturbed by these all-too-timely deaths.

Drunk driving wasn’t even a concept yet. Neither were seat belts. The men worked in the mines, for godsake, and death was blandly faced on a daily basis. Death they confronted in the form of accidental explosions, freak cave-ins, poisoned water tables, drunken brawls, coal truck pile-ups, equipment failures, gas leaks, fires, and, among the older men, cancer and black lung. The town’s kids perished of childbirth, fever, fainting, dehydration, Lyme disease, spider bites, heat stroke, alcohol poisoning, panther attack, and gun accidents. The wives died of childbirth, alcoholism, gun accidents, car accidents, old age, hangings, pill overdoses, drowning, and occasionally, serious beatings. May Jean knew this was just the way things worked. Sixteen, eighteen hours a day underground will drive a man and his kin sick in all manner of ways. The post-bar car wrecks that happened a handful of times a year were part of the cost of living, and May Jean hadn’t ever lived anywhere else.

*

The town was also a big moonshine stop, had been since the days when booze was illegal, and hooch remained the town’s second chief export after coal. The women, the invalids, and the boys who were too young for the mines all fermented what they could in whatever earthenware vessels they had lying around. Near to every family in Crab Orchard had a closet or spare outhouse filled with warm, sweaty containers of homemade whiskey or vodka or port. May Jean’s momma kept jars of sweetened Sun Tea out brewing in the light several extra days or weeks at a time, until the candy-like drink had coagulated into a sour-sticky rum of sorts, which she sold to neighbors for pennies or drank by herself throughout the day, sprinkled with shavings from the icebox.

“Rum-running is a longtime family tradition,” she’d tell May Jean, sipping and fanning herself in the shade. “Ever since my own granddaddy fled here from Spain with a big ole cask of red and sold it on the Indian Reserves, back in slavery times. It’s our craft, alright.”

The first time she heard this, May Jean had asked what other crafts they had. Dancing, say, or patchwork. Maybe a nice flamenco, from the old country?

Her mom had boxed her ears. “Hush up, I can’t hear you with my head ringing. I was sayin’, this here is our craft. You thinkin’ you’re better’n that? You want some kinda art?” Here she had held up her glass. “This is what our kin brought us. This is what we know how to do, so take some gosh-damned pride in it. Anything done artfully can be art.” And then she had spat a cockroach-sized plug of tobacco into the empty cup, and rolled over to sleep.

*

This local industry was nearly as dangerous as the mining was. Kids were born blind or dull, with faces that seemed squished together and too small for their own bodies. Parents would go to bed hot and sweaty, raving with drink, and by morning they would be cold and pruney, never to wake up. Sometimes folks just plumb went mad. May Jean’s own uncle had died under bizarre, whiskey-fueled circumstances, a year or two back. The occurrence had already been distilled into legend: he’d gotten too greedy in his dealings, he’d tried to encroach on the mob, and started peddling his moonshine in Nashville. They’d understandably protected their assets by purging him from the map. Strung him up, and propped his body like a scarecrow against a tree.  It’s just the cost of buying cheap and selling dear.

*

For all these reasons, May Jean sits outside the Swamp Fox placidly. Crab Orchard is simply a danger-infused place. And May Jean has never been sober of the small town’s influence, its petty dependencies and terrors. Adults drink, and dance, and rage at each other, and people stumble around and fall into ruin and die, and that’s just how it settles, and there’s nothing about it to fear. She sits on the porch in the glow of the bar and hears the clanking of glass and tries to read Anne of Green Gables for the fourth time.

But the night, this time, goes long. She can see her pretty mother dancing, can see her knowing, to herself, that she’s too pretty for this rust-bucket shitfuck town, and can hear her mother spitting white wine onto the Fox’s sooty floor, grinding her cigarette butt into the wet dirt with the ball of her high heel.

She can see the light in the fireplace dimming. She can see the stars turning pale in expectation of the sun, and she reckons it’s near to four AM. The men all have to trudge to the mines by eight. The more tired the tree, the more gnarled its branches, she knows. Tired fists rain down on you more harshly than do well-rested ones. It’s counter intuitive, but it doesn’t take much testing to learn.

May Jean goes around the side of the Swamp Fox, running her fingers across the building’s scalloped, shingled panels. Ain’t no one there. The paint is chipping in big chunks, each unearthed segment resembling some alien continent or sand-blasted mountain range. How many men and idle children have straddled this line and pulled off strips with their quick-bitten digits? May Jean pulls at a strip of paint—she’s done this before, many times, beginning when she was just a tiny kid.

Her dad used to ride down the mountainside in his red truck with her sitting in his lap, helping shift the gears and steer while he moved the gas and brake pedals below. He’d pull into the Swamp Fox’s driveway and plop her beside the building, leaving her to flick the paint off the building with a hickory branch while he swilled bourbon and let the sun set. That was before momma Opal had started joining them. For years, she’d been too sick to drink. Then all of a sudden, when May turned nine, she got better, and from then on the whole family went to the bar together.

Now May Jean pulls at a hunk of paint far up the building’s side, too high almost to reach. The paint unspools from the wood like twine unfurling under the pull of a kite. She goes on her tippy-toes trying to strip it further, and further, thinking perhaps she can clear a path of wood that goes straight up to the roof. But then the great plane of whitewash snaps, and disconnects from the building, and collapses into May Jean’s grimy hand. It’s long and narrow like Italy. Or perhaps just Florida. Either place May Jean would be delighted to visit all the same, but she’s never made it even to Memphis. She drops the hunk of paint into the grass, where a graveyard of much smaller chunks have come to rest with bottle caps and cigarette butts.

Inside, she can hear her mother still spinning and cackling with the other men. This must mean that May Jean’s daddy isn’t inside at all—he’d have gotten cross with her wailing, so much like a cat in heat, by now. Most men don’t bring their wives and children with them to the bar. This fact makes May Jean feel like something precious, something which must be closely kept.  This same fact makes her mother Opal a social and sexual magnet: the men who come to the Swamp Fox solo are drawn to her, and she gulps down their attentions as hungrily as their beer.

Some gay prohibition-era ditty is blaring, tinlike, through the building’s thin walls, and May Jean can picture her mother leaning into some gruff feller, balancing her large, curly head on the guy’s weary shoulder, and whimpering lustily. May Jean imagines the man is weary from lifting accumulated tons of rock and coal and soot with a big steel shovel for decades, so that a knot has coiled into his shoulder as thick and pulsing as a child’s heart. He’s weary from lugging a lunch pail of ham sandwiches and milk into the great pit beside the mountain, then lugging his starving self out sixteen hours later, every day, for thirty years. Weary from half a dozen children and a liverspotted old toad of a wife waiting for him with slack jaws. Weary from downing pint after pint here every night in avoidance of that family he’s unwittingly created. If her mother is some kind of paltry solace, maybe that’s not so bad.

May Jean goes behind the bar and finds a small gaggle of men smoking and surveying the stars. Among them is her father, Malus. He’s sitting on an overturned jug and throwing cards into the dirt with a couple other men, plumes of tobacco enshrouding him. An opaque cup rests at his side.

“Jean-bug!” he exclaims when he spots his daughter. “Pop a squat here and help me sort out what to do.”

He invites his daughter to take a seat in the grass beside him, his face ruddy with pride, and love, and whiskey. Just thirty-eight years of age, his eyes are already cloudy and hard for May Jean to connect with, as if he’s always staring into heaven, or crying, or both. Clear sight is no requirement underground.

Across the pile of dusty cards, an older mine worker titters at them. “Nah, son, that’s cheating. You just gone and doubled the total brains sitting at this game in one fell swoop.” He winks at May Jean. She has a reputation in town, because she can read and likes to. It’s akin to being a witch or a communist, almost.

They’re playing War, as it turns out, so May Jean’s not much use as a consultant. She inhales the smell of her father’s whiskey and hand-rolled cigarettes and watches the cards go down, feeling the men’s sweat and body heat radiating against her. Years in uncirculated air has anesthetized them to the heat.

Another man, John Jimmy, who lives in Crab Orchard in a shack two houses to the left, hands May Jean a cinnamon stick from his breast pocket, and winks at her. She reels back slightly from her perch in the dirt, without really knowing why. The music and drunkenness continues inside unencumbered. The longer they stay out here, the worse it will be, May Jean knows. The worse the position her mom’ll end up in. And yet, the longer it is, the longer until she needs to worry. If she can keep her daddy out here all night, then perhaps he and Opal will both pass out, and no one will be the wiser.

As she strikes this thought, her dad begins to slump in his seat, the cards drifting out of his hand slowly. May Jean lifts his cup and finds it surprisingly light– near empty, in fact. The men chuckle and John Jimmy puts a thick palm on May Jean’s knee, just shy of where her pedal pushers end.

“I think he needs to get to bed,” John Jimmy tells her, lurching forward. His teeth are blue-brown from decades of swilling wine and chew, and May Jean’s stomach swivels deep inside her. “Why don’t we go ask the proprietor if’n he’ll hole your folks up for the night. Ya’ll never stay, but they ain’t call it an Inn for nothing.”

May Jean bolts up. “I’ll see to it, thank you,” she says, her arms spread oddly wide, and she trudges across the grass and around the bar’s side in tight, fast, resolute strides, too clipped and sudden for John Jimmy to follow. She’s burning on instinct. She suspects that leaving her daddy asleep in a motel room and her mom drunk and unattended is a nasty, misfortune-beckoning mix. She doesn’t want to be stuck here alone.

She pops into the bar, and strides past the front tables, where other men are slumped over sleeping and drooling. She slides past her own momma, who’s curled up in a booth and near to sleeping herself, her long legs akimbo in the overalled man’s lap. May Jean’s little heart sinks as it always does when she sees the remains of the revelry inside. She floats past the worn, hand-carved pool table, past the men betting over dice and backgammon, and swims up to the bar. She has to plop her skinny ass into a stool to see the barkeep.

“Honey what you want in here?” the proprietor asks. “Dumpy knows I don’t cotton to babysitting.”

Dumpy is what everyone else calls May Jean’s daddy. Sometimes even she does, but not when things are serious. In the corner of her eye, she spies her mother’s legs rolling about in the booth, knocking her worn heels against an empty snifter of brandy.

The girl rallies herself and says, “I think we might be needing a room tonight, sir. My daddy’s gotten sleepy all a-sudden.” She reaches shyly into the pockets of her pedal pushers and withdraws a dime but palms it, ashamed it might not be enough.

“Your daddy don’t have the credit for that, pumpkin,” the barkeep says without a glance. “Seems like this all oughta be your momma’s trouble . . . but it looks like she’s beyond getting bothered at this point.”

He makes a show of casting his eyes across the bar, to Opal. May Jean doesn’t turn to see. She knows enough by now and wants none of the guilt of acknowledgement. Her momma nipping at some old so-and-so’s collarbone. Her décolletage slipping out the side of her dress, her miserable old shirtwaist dress she’s had since the thirties. It all makes May Jean want to puke, to flee, to down herself a bottle of mouthwash and set off hitchhiking for California.

She catches her own eye in the bar’s thin, greasy mirror. What is this knobby, freckled, red-as-a-peanut girl doing in here? Who’s gonna make sure she gets home alright? But nobody. And what’s she gonna make of her own tired self? She big enough for this, or not? How would Anne of Green Gables sort this shit out?

The record snaps off, and May Jean turns. Her daddy is there, ramrod straight and sober as a skunk, somehow, standing in the doorway. “Opal Whitehead, you lousy old bitch!” he hollers, and May Jean’s momma rolls awake in the man’s lap.

“Muhhallie? There you are . . .” Opal tries, vaguely, resting her arm on the table, kicking her legs about in the booth, trying to rally herself upward. Malus crosses the chasm, slamming the bar’s worn screen against its frame. The barkeep says softly to May Jean, “Go out back,” but she doesn’t.

The man in overalls comes slowly to life under Opal’s wriggling form. “Huh?” he says, his voice limpid and thick as a bottle of bitters. Opal is sitting up, her plump bottom right on the poor fella’s chest, Malus drawing in. May Jean wonders if she’ll have to throw herself in between them.

“What in the blue dog-screwing fuck is this supposed to be?” he says, drawing in on them. Opal kicks the brandy glass over and it shatters underwhelmingly.

“I was looking for you—” Opal tries, and Malus grabs her by the wrists and throws her from the booth. She skitters across the floor and comes to rest behind him, her eyes wild and red, her cheap mascara leaking crustily across her face. The man in overalls is struggling to stand but before he can get a solid footing outside of the booth, Malus wallops him squarely in the corner of his forehead. He slides down, the back of his skull bumping the table’s edge.

Leaning on her husband’s thick shoulder, Opal says, “Sweetie—”

“You hush up.”

He kicks the man in the chest, though not over-hard, for the man sputters and kicks and spits up a touch of vomit but does not pass out. May Jean watches her mom struggle against Malus, trying to push past him. He flings her back, but grabs her firmly by the arm before she can fly out of his reach or crash against the wall.

“Whatcha gonna do Opal? Huh? Kiss his boo-boos?” he says.

The man slides around in a pool of indeterminate wetness, his legs flailing in search of ground but not finding it. May Jean knows Anne of Green Gables would feel for him, but she herself is glad to see a bloom of blood and bruise erupting across his head.

“Well? Or are you comin’ home with us?”

May Jean’s momma whines quietly, rubbing at her eyes and lips. She looks ghastly, a watercolor painting of a clown in a picture book. With a shaking hand she takes Malus by the arm.

May Jean’s daddy cocks a glance over to her at the bar. “Let’s git, bug,” he tells her. “And bring me over a beer.”

He cracks the bottle open as they approach the truck. May Jean knows the deal by now. Her mom gets into the back seat first, sobbing quietly. By the time her head touches the window’s glass, though, she’s out. Malus crawls in behind the driver’s seat. He leans forward and puts his keys in May Jean’s hand.

May Jean pulls the seat forward, both to locate the pedals with her feet and to accommodate her father’s large frame. When May Jean was little, he’d control the gas and break, but put her on his lap: she’d steer the wheel against the slow curve of the mountain road, shifting the stick when he grunted for her to. But his drinking and her size had outgrown this method long ago.

She turns the key and notices one headlight has died. It’s not a legal matter that concerns her when she notices this. The right edge of the road will be hard to discern in the dark; she’ll have to swerve and hope and guess where the pavement ends and the cliff starts. She hears her father scold her mother, call her a whore and run his big hands along her cheek, and she hears him slur and then pass out. When she was a little girl, she drove in his lap and he had to stay awake. He used to tell her to slap him when his head started to duck forward into sleep. Not anymore.

She backs the truck out of the Swamp Fox parking lot. The truck is old and red, with chipping paint and a dead headlight. She can feel the weakness of the tires on the uneven gravel, but she knows no different. All roads and wheels are weak here. The alignment has always been off.

May Jean puts Anne of Green Gables under her seat. When she was smaller, she had to sit on the book to see over the wheel. It doesn’t trouble her now; she just strains and squints her poor eyes into the night. There aren’t any cars coming down the mountain. She climbs up, shifting gears, pumping the brakes in her sandals when she hits a patch of wetness or a dip in the pavement. Her family snores and gurgles in the back seat, the beer bottle rocking and swaying along with her swerves, clanging against the many other glass bottles and aluminum cans left from the countless nights before.

May Jean reaches behind the seat and claims the bottle, and downs the last warm puddle of booze from the glass. The car rocks back and forth as she steers it gently around the sides of Big Rock, in and out, around the sloping, unfenced, precarious curves, one hand clenching the wheel, the other dangling the beer. Her parents used to watch her drive, and shout when she steered them too close to the edge. There are many skeletons of cars and men down there. Now she has outgrown all that.

___

Erika D. Price is a social psychologist and fiction writer living in Chicago, Illinois. Her work has been published in EFiction, EFiction Horror, Red Fez, and others, and is the author of an e-novella published by Thunderune Press. She writes all her first drafts on the notepad of her phone, which probably makes her look like a perpetually-texting woman-child to those around her.

Mount Fuji

By Naomi O'Hara

MAKOTO stood behind his daughter Mariko, who looked out the front window of the moving train as her mother, Eriko, used to do. Nine years had passed since he had been to the mountain with Eriko, who had loved Mount Fuji almost as much as she had loved him. Makoto thought if his daughter could see the mountain up close, she would have a wonderful memory of the summer as he and Eriko used to have.

“On this train from Tokyo to Mount Fuji, I was always with your mother,” Makoto said. Mariko was absorbed with the flowing views and did not seem to have heard him.

After going through the long stretches of congested towns, the train meandered among green mountains.

Every green has a poem, Eriko used to say, her face close to the train window. She also said that in Tokyo she felt like she had to live, but the sea of waving green in Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures made her happy to live. Among the concrete, the buildings, and the crowds, everything seemed to her a matter of course. But surrounded by green trees and green mountains, her ability to be surprised and her appreciation for life sprang fresh. Traveling through these rural prefectures, Eriko would recite poems to nature like a little bird singing in the woods.

“This is Mount Fuji Express Train Number Twelve, bound for Kawaguchiko Station,” a polite female voice announced.

The train whistled longingly, like a harmonica played by a homesick traveler, as it ran past dense thickets and trees. A cross-shaped object jumped at Mariko’s face. She ducked as it crackled against the front window. It was a dragonfly, its body and net-like wings pressed against the window of the moving train. Then from the air dropped the papery wings of a beautiful yellow butterfly; it also smashed into the window. Unlike neatly pinned specimens, the dead bodies of these insects looked grotesque.

Mariko’s excited expression fell from her face. Makoto set a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Today was the last day for them,” she said. “And they didn’t know.” For this he had no response.

Soon, from the side window, an elegant cone-shaped mountain appeared, comfortably sitting like an unshakable king. Though it lacked a distinguished snow crown, no one on the train had to ask if it was Mount Fuji. No other mountain towered over the clouds, and no other mountain was so beautifully symmetrical. The other mountains seemed to change shape as the train passed, but Mount Fuji looked the same no matter which angle the train presented. Telephone poles, grape plantations, rice fields, and smaller mountains came and went, but Mount Fuji always remained in view, and its shape never changed.

“Are you all right, Mariko?” Makoto asked. “You are quiet.”

She answered his observation with more silence, unpredictable in the way her mother had been. At Fujiyoshida Station, they boarded a bus that took them straight through the green woods to Mount Fuji, which zoomed large as in a camera effect in a movie. Then the bus began climbing, the road winding, never to straighten. A creamy ceiling of clouds pressed toward them. Closing his eyes, Makoto felt the shaking. Right, left, right, left, Mariko’s upper body moved too, her head bumping his shoulder.

“The fifth station of Mount Fuji,” the bus driver said. “Your destination. Enjoy.”

The air felt thin and cool. “Daddy, how high is it?”

“Let’s see.” Makoto unfolded a climbing pamphlet, pleased with her interest. “It’s 2,305 meters. The top of the mountain is 3,776 meters.”

“How many stations are there?”

“Ten, with the first station at the foot of the mountain and the tenth at the top.”

Paved with restaurants, cafés, and souvenir shops, the fifth station felt crowded for a place so far from any large city. Most visitors dressed casually like Mariko and Makoto, while some wore mountain-climbing boots and alpine caps.

Makoto took Mariko into a shop where he bought a jigsaw puzzle of Mount Fuji, a good souvenir for a child of Mariko’s age. Mariko tried out the Kongouzue, the wooden pilgrim’s staffs, knocking the ends against the worn planked floor.

“Mariko, we can hike around the fifth station, ride a horse, and then go home if you like.”

Like it was a trophy, Mariko lifted a walking stick with a Hinomaru flag and round bells at the top. “Daddy, can you buy me this?”

“It’s for climbing the mountain.”

“I know that. I want to climb.”

“The bus brought us only partway. To climb to the top takes endurance and stamina.”

“Daddy. I thought you had enough sta-min-a to climb.”

He suppressed a smile at the slow, careful way she said stamina. “I’m not worried about myself.”

“I’m not a loser.” Mariko raised the stick, which was taller than her but much lighter. Then she tapped the bottom of the stick on the floor and the bells tinkled. It was the sound of an epic journey. She smiled at him, the corners of her lips spread wide toward her ears. “I’m climbing to the top. Let’s go.” Mariko took his hand. In her eyes Makoto saw Eriko’s determination. “We can do it, Daddy.” Her enthusiasm pleased him.

“Okay, Mariko. Let’s see how far you can climb.” Makoto bought her a windbreaker because he knew it would be cold if she lasted till evening. It would be very challenging for a child of her age to climb to the top, and he was sure she would have to give up eventually. But he also wanted Mariko to experience something difficult. She could talk about her trial and disappointment throughout the rest of her life, and someday it would be a sweet story. And when the mountain won, when Mariko was forced to give up her quest for the summit, the harsh reality might make her a little more humble.

Mariko marched under a red torii, a gate most commonly found at the entrance of Shinto shrines. She held her chin high and her chest protruded as if announcing, I am here; I’ve just begun to climb—look at me! Women were not allowed to climb Mount Fuji until 1868, in the era of the Meiji Restoration, and women were not allowed to vote until 1946, when the occupying forces of the United States pressed for change. This long subjugation of Japanese women would later upset Mariko, but during that summer of 1970, Makoto knew she had no awareness of what was her right and what was a gift. She claimed both from birth, like her arms and legs. Taking these opportunities for granted, as if Mount Fuji were a hill in her own garden, she strode with ignorance and innocence on the path of chauvinists.

The concrete pavement turned to ash-like black earth, but the path remained relatively smooth, flat, and wide—like a hiking trail. The green trees, shrubs, and weeds stretched their branches and abundant leaves over the path, like a throng of fans trying to touch celebrities as they passed. Led by a trainer, a horse with gray spots clomped on the path, carrying a mother and a preschool-age daughter.

Soon the tall trees were gone. With nothing to stop the wind, the plants became humbly shorter than Mariko; small shrubs dotted the slope on both sides of the path like dark green road signs. The spacious view from between the clouds allowed Makoto and his daughter to look all the way down to the foot of the mountain where the lakes appeared to be tiny puddles and where the forests seemed no more than lush green weeds.

On the path, red rocks sat here and there in the blackish earth. Climbers stretched their necks looking up toward their goal. Having hurled out volcanic rock hundreds of years earlier, the top of Mount Fuji towered alone, appearing no closer than it had an hour before. There were no mountains, no clouds near the summit, nothing but blue sky behind it. Mount Fuji appeared to understand its unique harmony with the background of the universe. Makoto shivered at the challenge that lay ahead for his daughter. “If you’re getting tired, we can turn back now.”

A thin film of sweat gleamed on Mariko’s forehead. Where she’d rubbed with the back of her hand, her skin was streaked with dirt. “Of course not.”

They continued, trudging past split iron rail fences like those used in construction, perhaps intended to halt an avalanche, to reduce erosion, or to block the wind, or even to catch a tumbling climber. The path narrowed and they could no longer walk side by side.

“I’ll go first,” Makoto said. “You watch my steps.” He measured his stride, challenging his daughter’s lean but small legs. She breathed in short puffs, looking determined to keep pace with him. They balanced along the edge of a cliff, shielded by a second rock ledge. At a sharp turning point, Makoto grabbed Mariko’s arm so she would not slip. He pointed at the mountain’s looming shadow, the gradual and symmetrical slant of its sides, its flat top. The shadow stretched across misty blue lakes, sprawling green forests, and brown patches of towns with thousands of dot-sized buildings.

Through rifts in the clouds, Makoto pointed at the northernmost body of water, shaped like a man whose hands and feet were tied with rope. “Between the green mountains, that must be Kawaguchi Lake.”

“It looks like a small pond,” Mariko said.

He moved his index finger to the northeast, to a body of water shaped like a whale. “And that must be Yamanaka Lake. Two of the five Fuji lakes. Those lakes are huge. It takes hours to walk around them. So you see how high we have climbed.”

“We climbed only a little with our feet, Daddy. The bus brought us most of the way.”

They resumed climbing. Mariko went first. The path became steep enough to make Makoto bend forward to stare at Mariko’s heels. Among adult-size footprints, Mariko’s small and short-strided but well-printed steps expressed the unique joy of blazing a frontier. Though his daughter was raised on the paved streets of Tokyo, the rural trail suited her wild and unsophisticated character.

*

“It’s fine to turn back now,” Makoto said.

Mariko shook her head, her cheeks flushed pink. “Let’s go, Daddy. The adventure has just started.”

They followed a long slanted path of irregular steps. At the end of the straight stairs, the landing was small, and from there the trail switched back and forth across the face of the mountain. Rough footsteps clamored behind them, young men in a hurry to pass. Makoto stood to the side, gripping Mariko’s shoulders so that she would not fall. Slanting sunlight leaped into his eyes from just above the slope of the mountain. The sky was bright but the sun looked distant and reserved. “The sun is tired, Daddy,” Mariko said. “Like it spent an entire day climbing up and down Mount Fuji.”

Makoto was tired as well. The sun no longer burned, but the air was still humid. Beads of sweat dropped from his forehead. In the halo of the sun, another climber descended, his footsteps and his greeting echoing along the rock walls.

Makoto spotted a bush among the rocks and stones. The higher they climbed, the fewer plants they saw. After several zigzagging paths, they arrived at the hut called Hinodekan and sank onto the bench outside the tin walls.

“Okay. This is enough, isn’t it?” Makoto asked.

“We are going on, Daddy. Unless you are tired.”

“All right.” Makoto rose, his legs stiff. They climbed a relatively short distance to the next hut, Tomoekan. A line of people stood before what might have been a narrow checkpoint for heaven. At the front of the line, a man pulled the rectangular end of a red-hot iron stick from the glowing coals of a grill to brand each climber’s walking stick. Mariko’s turn came. As it wisped from the brown Station Seven Tomoekan, 2740 m logo, the bluish-gray smoke stung Makoto’s nose. Mariko thrust her walking stick in banzai. The bells jingled happily. Makoto wished for the smell of the brand to burn in his daughter’s memory so she would forever recall this moment of pure, confident, innocent freedom.

“Again, we can go back from here, Mariko, if you are tired. Nobody would think you a loser if we turned around. It’s an accomplishment for you to get this far, and we can climb the rest when you’re older.”

“I’m all right. Are you tired, Daddy?”

“No.”

“Then let’s go.” Mariko led on the straight path, which now consisted of rocks of various sizes artificially lined up at irregular intervals, seemingly never-ending stairs along the cliff. Makoto stepped easily from stair to stair, but Mariko needed to step twice on each one. She wisely traded legs, reaching first with one and then with the other, so that they shared the burden of climbing. Her pace was steady and she was not out of breath.

Congested clouds hovered below like endless mountains, piling up as if competing for the highest position. Makoto shook Mariko’s shoulder and pointed at one small, stray cloud loitering along the path like a street performer. It changed shape: First, it was a jellyfish, the edge of its skirt moving up and down; then, it elongated and twisted its hips like a Hawaiian dancer.

The zigzagging turns tightened. Ahead, a long line of climbers straggled over the path, as far as Makoto could see. The irregular trail steepened and wove among the rocks. The climbers clutched a long chain that had been set for them. Where the chain ended, Makoto grabbed the jagged edge of a rock for balance.

Each step required a good deal of concentration and much work from the thigh and calf muscles. Makoto and Mariko passed climbers resting wherever they could find space along the path. The mountaintop peered down at them. “Do you need a break, Mariko?”

“No, not at all,” she insisted.

The vegetation disappeared and the landscape turned barren. Beyond the signs and metal nets posted for protection, the mountain looked like the surface of the moon or of Mars. Out of nowhere appeared a bunch of white lilies wrapped in white paper and a sake bin, protected by a wall of stacked stones.

Mariko looked up at her father.

“I think,” he said, “someone died here.”

She breathed deeply and in the sound of her breath, Makoto could almost hear her heart. Some fathers would have suggested a prayer for the dead, knowing that in her innocence Mariko would comply, but instead he looked through the dusk to the top of the mountain. It did not seem any closer, the face of it dignified as a statue of some historical figure. Yet, unlike a statue, the mountain could erupt at any time, spewing lava, ash, and smoke; disrupting roads, trains, and daily life. Some might believe such a disaster to be a sign of God’s anger but Makoto did not. He was spiritual but not religious. Unlike his late wife who believed God would help her, who believed she could see mountains move, Makoto knew his own limitations and his daughter’s. “We still have a ways to climb. Would you like to go down, Mariko?”

“No way. You can go back and wait for me at the bus station, but I’m going to the top.”

The rocks on the path became scant and the ground loose. The extra energy required to plod over the soft earth made the climbers quiet, their calves tight and burning. As from the fog of a short morning dream that resisted the challenge of reality, the summit loomed in the twilight. It still seemed no closer. It was also clear that the higher they climbed, the steeper the path would become. Makoto watched Mariko’s breathing. She took one step as she inhaled; she took another step as she breathed out, regular and strong. As a running coach, Makoto saw potential in his daughter’s lung capacity.

“There’s a stray rock ahead,” Makoto called to her. “Be careful, don’t trip.” Mariko tapped her walking stick, and he knew she was feeling for irregularities in the growing darkness.

“Do not give up, Daddy.” Mariko patted Makoto’s lower back. “Let’s show Mount Fuji we don’t back down easily. Our hearts are as big as this mountain.”

Soon other tired climbers sat on the ground nearby. One sucked air from an oxygen can. Another man lay face up next to the bench, his hand on his forehead.

Makoto thrust his climbing pamphlet at Mariko before she could complain about taking a long break. Fortunately, it was written in hiragana characters for children. Mariko read aloud, “Because of the lack of oxygen, mountain sickness is common on Mount Fuji. The best way to avoid it is to linger at station seven or eight, in order to adjust to the altitude.”

“We are at station eight,” Makoto said. “You see? To climb, we have to take our time. We will not reach the summit until sunrise.”

The clouds parted and stars spread through the sky. Mariko raised her hand as if reaching for one. “Look how they play,” she said, “while their strict teacher, the sun, is away.”

*

Eventually, they joined others in a dark room where people lay in sleeping bags, side by side like logs. As they slept, the floor gradually became packed with people.

Several hours later, when Makoto opened the door, cold air brushed his face. He made Mariko put on her Windbreaker. They left under a world of stars in three dimensions, stars that floated and swirled around them. They were calm and soothing like fireflies. In the western sky the gibbous moon shone bright.

As the path steepened, they could no longer marvel at the sky; the irregular rocks demanded their attention. Again they leaned on the chains strung for balance. The higher the altitude, the steeper and narrower the path became, the mild congestion slowing the climbers.

“Hold on. We can make it.” A stranger behind them mimicked Mariko’s loud, animated tone. She turned and smiled with the V sign next to her face.

Because they were short of breath, no one else spoke or cheered as she did. Mariko’s breath came hard too, but it was not her nature to be quiet. Her vocal energy, her determination to extend beyond herself—these qualities impressed her father, who quit asking if she wanted to give up and instead warned only that she watch her step.

Mariko watched her step but never quieted. “A little more. One more step! The goal is near and the dawn is close. We’ve got to show Mount Fuji what we’re made of. Let’s fight.”

They zigzagged across the steep upper slope of the mountain. The path turned to paved stone stairs. Like loyal dogs, two white stone lions guarded a torii gate, one on each side. Passing the gate, Mariko stepped to the top of a ridge where climbers stood side by side, cameras poised, flashlights beaming, binoculars ready. The top of the mountain was gone from their view. There was only the sky, filled with stars, pregnant with morning.

“We’re at the top, Mariko.” Makoto set his hand above hers on the walking stick. “That’s 3,776 meters. There’s nowhere higher in Japan.”

Under the light of the stars, all faces were clear and joyful.

A vast ocean of clouds rolled beneath them, disappearing in obscure darkness as they reached a horizontal line far away. The sky began to fill slowly with a bluish aura. Everyone looked toward the east. A needle-thin sliver of light crept vertically toward the top of the sky. The clouds above the light turned golden, born from a halo of fresh orange below. Fresh, as if it were the first morning on Earth. The curved head of the sun rose slowly, emphasizing the significance of light to the Earth. The obscured ground and the twinkling stars retreated, no match for the sun’s brightness. Gradually unveiled were the faraway forests.

Applause broke out for the sun, the awaited hero. Camera shutters clicked as the sun stretched its chin over the clouds, spreading its clean white aura.

Mariko’s Hinomaru, the sun-disc flag, looked very appropriate, hi-no-maru meaning the circle of the sun, the red circle symbolizing the sun. Nihon, “Japan,” means “origin of the sun.” The Japanese feel close to the sun as if it is a mother who, in rising, reunites with her children.

Makoto hoped Mariko saw how this day was different from all other days, when the sun waited for her to wake and come out of the house. She was inviting the sun to her country, to her mountain, to her heart.

___

Naomi O’Hara moved from Japan to the United States in 1986 to enrich her work as a writer and philosopher. She attended medical school to learn more about the human condition and has been practicing as a psychiatrist since 1999. She enjoys swimming, competing in triathlons, music composition, and travel. She writes under the pen name Naomi O’Hara.

Lucky Beef

By Dorene O'Brien

DALY says it’s destiny causing all my problems, but I know better. It’s Daly causing all my problems. Daly lives in a defunct cider mill just outside Lemmox. He’s a drunk and a scrapper, but he’s bright. He and Jared been carousing for over twenty years, and they got the scars to prove it. They can read each other’s bodies like history books: the small scar behind Jared’s left ear was from the knife poke in Saline after he fussed over that married woman; the jagged scar down Daly’s back happened after he’d crotch-kicked one of them biker boys at Louie’s; and the fourteen stitches from his forehead down the center of his nose, the ones I’m lookin’ at right now, happened last night after he slammed his head into the aquarium at Pinky Tai’s ‘cause they didn’t have no more Lucky Beef. That bastard’s crazy, and I swear one day I’ll kill him myself.

We were drinking over at the Apple Seed, me, Daly and Jared, and Jared says he’s hungry. So Daly starts carrying on about Lucky Beef, how Pinky Tai’s has the best damn Lucky Beef he ever been exposed to—that’s an expression Daly uses more than I care to hear—how if he don’t get some of that Lucky Beef yesterday he’s gonna cave in. By the time Daly’s done with a visual and olfac-try description of the Lucky Beef, Jared’s passed out on the bar. I tell Daly it’s late, but he does me like he always does and before long my sorry ass is behind the wheel of my rusted pickup. Daly throws Jared in the bed of the truck and we make our way up Pike and over the bridge into town. Sure enough, the place is closing just as we walk in smellin’ of whiskey and no good. This whisper of a Chinese woman says, “We close.”

“Listen, sugar,” Daly starts in real nice, “I just want—no, I need—some Lucky Beef.”

“We close,” she says.

“Do you know you got the prettiest eyes I ever saw?” he says, thinking he’s a little smarter than he actually is.

She stares at him, and then a little Chinese man comes out the kitchen.

“We close,” he says.

“Are you the chef?” says Daly. “‘Cause if you are, you’re one kitchen magician. In fact, I don’t believe I’ll be able to sleep tonight if I don’t get some of yer Lucky Beef.”

Telling this story makes me laugh, seeing as I’m looking at Daly right now and he’s sleeping like a dead man, out cold from that head-on collision with the fish tank. Anyway, the man says we can get a take-out order and this cheers Daly up considerably till he says, “But no

Rucky Beef.”

Well Daly, who’s prone to mood swings somethin’ awful, starts fussing. “Do you mean you have no Lucky Beef or you won’t give me any Lucky Beef?”

Now here’s where I get worried ‘cause I know Daly; his voice changes, his back gets straight, it even looks like his hair’s standing up some. The little people stand there watching Daly’s transfer-mation like it was nothing happening (though they ain’t never seen his opening act, so how could they know?).

The man looks at Daly like he’s cracked and says, “No Rucky Beef.”

“Well, what if I just checked the kitchen?” says Daly, acting like the dang health inspector, and that’s when I come in with reason, though that ain’t never failed to fail before.

“C’mon, Daly. Let’s just get some egg rolls.” I turn to the straight-faced couple. “You got egg rolls?”

“Egg low?” says the woman. “How many?”

“Nine,” I say, but I just know after Daly’s Lucky Beef speech at the Apple Seed he ain’t gonna let it drop. The woman reaches for a pad to write down the order—she can remember it, sure, but these people are proud of their record keeping—and Daly puts his mitt-sized hand over it.

“Now hold on a minute,” he smiles. “I have this condition. I need Lucky Beef or I’ll die.”

The couple look at each other like they don’t get it, but they stay still.

No Rucky Beef,” says the woman, who ‘peers to be getting frustrated.

“What if I said I’m not leavin’ till I get Lucky Beef?” says Daly like he got ‘em by the short hairs.

Then somethin’ I never thought woulda happened does, and it ain’t the part about Daly testing the aquarium glass with his head neither. The little woman in her red and white dress and shiny slippers, her dark hair wrapped around sticks pokin’ out the back of her head, her bony fingers on the edge of the order pad she can’t budge ‘cause this idiotic lug’s strong arming her, starts screaming at Daly.

“You get out! No Rucky Beef! No egg low! We close! You get out. I cawra cops!” She reaches for the phone as the little man nods, but I can see he’s scared, I can tell he wishes he’d brought along one of them ginsu knives from the kitchen.

Right then I take a tally: no Lucky Beef, thirteen straight whiskeys and the fact that he was outdone by a little smidgen of a woman and wasn’t a thing he could do about it (Daly’s a fighter, but he ain’t never hit no woman). So he goes over to the fish tank real calm outside but bubbling over indoors and says, “Maybe I’ll eat some fish then.” The woman’s yelling into the phone and she’s excited; I’m betting they can’t understand her but they’ll be by soon enough.

“Let’s go, Daly,” I say.

“Well, I’m still hungry,” he says, “and if these folks won’t give me no Lucky Beef”—and he starts drawing pitchers on the aquarium glass with his finger—“I’m gonna eat the big black one with the wings, and that one on the bottom with the whiskers.”

“Po-reese coming,” the little woman says. Actually she sings it, her voice rising on the ing part like a little kid sees the ice cream truck up a hill. That’s what helps it along, I’d say. Daly don’t like being ignored or looking foolish, although he contributes plenty to making it happen. So he tries to lift the lid off the aquarium and I go over to stop him but I don’t need to ‘cause he can’t get it off. The little couple just stare at him—they must know somethin’ special about that lid ‘cause they don’t even move.

Daly’s steaming when he says, “If I can’t eat some Lucky Beef I’m gonna eat some unlucky fish,” which I think is pretty clever for a guy just had thirteen drinks. He’s fiddling with that lid and doing such a bad job the fish don’t even look scared. I know Daly, and I know just then he ain’t thinking about Lucky Beef or Jared passed out in the truck or even the police coming to haul him off. All he’s thinking about is getting that lid off. Anyway, he’s coming unglued, banging on the top, looking at the sides for a secret latch or somethin’, and then I see red and blue lights bouncing off the red velvety wallpaper, streaking across the lanterns over the tables, even across Daly’s face above that aquarium.

“Jesus Jude,” I say to him, “you done me in tonight.”

The woman runs to the front door to let in the cops and Daly stops and smiles. Right as Ned Pearson, the judge’s cross-eyed nephew just new on the force, plows into the restaurant in his overstuffed uniform, Daly slams his head full force into the aquarium. I hear the crack before I see what happened, and I ain’t saying I believe in animal cruelty or nothing, but I was hoping it was the aquarium and not his skull that went. The glass cracked in a straight line the length of his forehead to his nose, and he went down like a lead sinker. I ain’t gonna tell him none of the fish got out, that they sealed that crack with clear caulk and by the next afternoon it wasn’t leaking much.

I get Ned to help me throw Daly into the bed of the truck next to Jared and I head for Lemmox County Regional, where I pull right up to the emergency doors. Two orderlies come running out with a stretcher as I unhitch the gate, and at first they start pulling at Jared.

“No,” I say, “the other one.”

I have to help ‘em haul Daly out the truck and struggle his six-foot, four-inch body onto the stretcher, and when I see his size 13 steel-toed boots hanging nearly down to the wheels, I gotta laugh.

“What about him?” one of ‘em nods at Jared.

“He’s just drunk,” I say.

“And him?” he nods at Daly.

“Drunk and stupid,” I say.

They tell me they’re gonna hafta stitch him up, take X-rays, that it’ll be a while. I look at the cherry-colored bloodstains on his work jacket.

“Okay,” I say.

Jared’s snoring when I hop into the truck and head for Daly’s place. I try to think about what he’ll need—a toothbrush, clean underwear, some whiskey, his Pocket Philosophers, the one he’s always quoting from. “Lifeis either a daring adventure or nothing, Wendall,” he says to me. “Simplicity is elegance.”

I turn onto Old Mill Road. It’s plenty dark now and my lone headlight shines up into thick stands of Scotch pine and dark spruce. The road is potholed somethin’ awful, and it’s hard to see where I’m driving cause of my cockeyed beam. As I head uphill I start wondering if I latched the gate all right, if Jared ain’t slipped out the back—I’d have a helluva time finding him on this moonless night. I peek through the cab window behind me and there he is, all curled up on some burlap. It’s at least thirty minutes to Daly’s, and I’ll be damned if I don’t get lonely with all that dark and quiet. I aim for all the potholes I can make out, but even as we bounce along like an apple down the chute, Jared just rolls over and settles in again.

When I pull up to the mill, Trouble, Daly’s Boxer, bounds toward the pickup. She’s already drooling when I reach for the glove box and get the rawhide, and she sets still while I fumble the key off her collar in the dark. Daly stole her from a lumberyard when she was just a pup, and he called her Trouble for the fun of it. He’s always talking about how Trouble just follows him around, how he can’t go too far without Trouble hunting him down, how he even sleeps with Trouble, and this gets the women who don’t know any better feeling low down sorry for him. Well, the trouble with Trouble is she got beat up pretty bad by some guys at that yard and she’s skittish around everyone but me and Daly and Jared. Old Man Warner come over once to pick up Daly’s land survey—Daly leases his ten acres of apple trees to Warner, who combines it with his forty and sells to Mott’s—and when he went to scratch Trouble’s ear she near bit his hand off. That’s when Daly started putting the key on her collar. This also keeps him from losing it when he’s drunk.

“Go get Jared,” I say to Trouble, and she jumps against the passenger window, the rawhide dangling from her mouth. Then she runs around back and jumps against the gate, looks into the bed of the truck and gives Jared up for dead before following me into the mill. I click on the light where Daly set up the kitchen—he eats on the counter where the last owner used to sell cider and smoked beef sticks—and, as usual, the place is spic n’ span. There’s a wood burning stove in the center of the room and I check the woodpile since I don’t think Daly’s gonna feel like chopping with a freight train riding in his skull, but he’s more’n caught up. He got a yellow note tacked up above the steel sink, something I ain’t seen before, and it says in neat little letters: Success is 99 percent failure. “Amen,” I say out loud, and Trouble gives out a little whine. You can’t tell me she don’t know Daly’s gone and done somethin’ stupid again.

I grab a paper bag from under the sink and head for Daly’s bookshelves. They’re solid oak—Daly built ‘em himself—about nine feet tall and the length of the south wall of the mill—forty feet, I’d say. My eyes get all crazy looking at some of those leather covers with the curlicue letters and, of course, I can’t find Pocket Philosophers. He got books by a bunch of German fellas I don’t care to spell out here, some foreign cookbooks, science fiction, and the smartest guy he ever been exposed to—Rousseau. I throw The Social Contract into the bag and head toward the metal “Mustard, Smoked Cheese” sign he left hanging over the bathroom. I throw his toothbrush in the bag and look for toothpaste but I can’t find none. When I head for the closet, I see it on the window ledge next to the toilet: Pocket Philosophers. I throw it in the bag, then grab some underwear, a flannel shirt, sweat socks, his Bricklayers 204 union jacket and an army surplus blanket.

Back in the living room, which ain’t a living room at all but a big open space in the center of the mill where the press used to be, I flop onto Daly’s recliner and take a rest. Trouble flops down too, and by the sounds of it she’s doing a dissertation on that rawhide. On the end table I see the photo of Daly, me and Jared standing in our waders holding up rainbow trout and smiling Olympic-scale stupid. My trout’s the biggest, but that’s only right since I introduced these fellas to the art of angling. I’d just pulled into town—still had my beat up couch and metal bed frame in back of the truck—and decided to stop at the first watering hole for whatever they had on tap. That was six years ago, and I can tell you Daly and Jared was in a pathetic state of trout fishing self-delusion back then. When I walked into the Apple Seed Daly was lecturing on fly tying. Every so often someone would say, “Is that so, Professor?” or “Smart boy like you oughta know.” He was talking a blue streak where the facts weren’t nearly as important as the delivery, and I could hardly keep still when he started in on the trout.

“You need a large, weighty fly with a flash of red.” Here he touched the kerchief the barmaid had ‘round her neck and I knew right off he was slick. “Trout need to see red if you want a good fight.”

He seemed like a sociable, good-natured guy, so I said, “I think you’re getting your trout and your bulls mixed up.”

Daly looked at me, and it was then I realized he was about as big as a grizzly. “Excuse me?” he said.

“Well,” I said, suddenly nervous as a blind man in a minefield, “trout don’t care much about color. You can tag ‘em with a red fly, a green fly, or a polka dot fly, don’t make ‘em no never mind. They just want something shaped like food and move like food, the bigger the better.”

I was almost finished with my beer, but would have left the rest behind if that looked like the best course of action, and I thought about it when Daly got up from his barstool and started over.

“Name’s Daly,” he said, “and that’s Jared.” He pointed to a fella who was holding onto the bar like it was a telephone pole in a hurricane. “We’re trout fishing tomorrow. Fall River. Interested?”

So that was that. We had a couple more beers and I told them about how the trout used to jump from the river, bounce two miles up a forest trail and then throw themselves at the kitchen window where my grandma used to tie flies. They helped me unload my stuff at the small A-frame my uncle left me and said they’d be by the next morning at five to pick me up. By five-o-one we were in Daly’s van—me, Jared, Trouble, a case of Millers, a fifth of whiskey and some fancy sandwiches Daly made outta half-moon shaped rolls and chicken. Trouble snarled at me the whole way, even after Daly gimme two rawhides for making friends with, but after a couple of trout and some full-scale sniffing, she calmed down considerably. An old fella fishing downstream came over for a beer and Daly got him to snap our pitcher with his Sure Shot.

Daly’s high school diploma’s the only thing on the wall, and it amounts to this: Daly ain’t really no professor, although that has never stopped him from professing. He got a knack for philosophy, and since he talks pretty smart people around here have taken to calling him Professor. They think he knows what all about everything. “Professor, how my gonna get my tractor out the gulch?” and “What do ya think of livin’ in sin before marriage?” and “How d’ya get grease stains off upholstery?” I guess Daly’s a damn good professor ‘cause he takes on every question without thinking too hard.

I give Trouble a few pats and clip the key back onto her collar. Jared’s still snoring when I cover him up with the blanket, throw the paper bag onto the passenger seat and make my way back toward town. It’s about 4 a.m. when Jared knocks on the small window between the cab and the bed of the truck. When I open it he sticks his face in and says, “Where’s the Lucky Beef?”

By the time we pull into the hospital lot Jared’s laughing so hard he triggers a coughing jag and we gotta wait in the truck for it to clear out—you don’t go walking into no hospital acting like you got TB. Daly’s still out when we get to the room he’s sharing with some guy jumped out the window of his married girlfriend’s bedroom and busted up his leg. Daly’s gonna have a philosophying field day with that. Anyway, I empty the bag into a little metal dresser next to Daly’s bed and a big bruiser of a nurse with a cross ‘round her neck comes in and starts manhandling his chart like it done smacked her around and run off with her best friend.

“How’s he doin’?” I say.

“How does it look?”

“Well,” I say, “I ain’t of the medical persuasion like yourself.”

“I’d say he looks like he commanded a freight train to stop, unsuccessfully,” says Jared.

Daly’s face looks like it been split in half and stitched up the center, and with his two bruised eyes it looks like he got a big ol’ butterfly lying across his head.

“His blood alcohol level was point one-nine when he came in here.” The nurse looks at us like she’s studying a festering sore before stomping off.

Jared and me get some black coffee from a machine in the hall and get to talking about the real culprit here, Lucky Beef.

“You know beef ain’t they specialty,” says Jared. “They specialty’s seafood.”

“I don’t see why they can’t both be specialties.”

He shakes his head like a man facing a river on a bicycle. “Cause what they got is plenty a fish. They surrounded by the H-two-oh. They ain’t got no room in China for cows to be runnin’ around. Hell, they hardly got room for theyselves.”

“Well, this ain’t China.”

“Folks stick with what they know. These people know how to fish and then how to cook it up. They ain’t been cookin’ up cows back in the Mink Dynasty. They ain’t learned that till they come to ‘merica, so how can they be any good at it?”

“It ain’t that hard, Jared.”

“Can you eat with chopsticks?”

“I ain’t never tried.”

“So what do you take to more natcherly, a fork and knife or some wooden sticks?”

“Well the fork and knife only ‘cause I never learned—”

“That’s right.”

“But they can learn to cook cows just as good as shrimps.”

“Will you ever take to the chopstick more’n a fork and knife?”

“That’s different.”

He waves his hand across his face to wipe me from his sight. “This only makin’ me hungry,” he says.

Three years ago when the Chinese folks opened up Pinky Tai’s there was lots of conversations like the one Jared and I just had, some of ‘em occurring right there in the restaurant. No one could figger out why anyone would open a Chinese restaurant in Lemmox, ‘specially these folks dressed in clothes with dragons on ‘em didn’t speak no English. But ‘ventually they got the farmers and their families, some tourists come out to fish, even us bricklayers to point to something on the menu had enough English in it to sound good. They was always running when we was in there eating chicken with the almonds or Moo Goo Guy in a Pan or even Lucky Beef. People in Lemmox generly got to liking Chinese food, and I’d have to say we were all on pretty good terms till Daly tried getting into that fish tank the hard way.

Daly comes to just as Florence Night-in-gale finishes up with Hopalong next door, and she warns him not to sit up too quick.

“You’re an angel of mercy,” he says, touching his face about the center like he’s taking a survey.

“Hmph,” she says.

“So, what now?” Daly asks her.

“Observation,” she says. “Doctor likes to keep head injuries around for a while, make sure they don’t do anything strange.”

“That doctor shoulda been around last night,” Jared laughs, but the angel of mercy just squeaks out the room in them ghostly shoes.

“How’s she look, boys?” Daly asks, pointing to his face.

“Prob-ly a little worse’n she feels,” says Jared.

“No matter,” says Daly. “Mission accomplished.”

Jared and me look at each other. Either Daly thinks he got some Lucky Beef last night, or he thinks he got into that tank.

“Well, Daly,” I say, “the only mission you accomplished was to avoid getting arrested, and you went about that the hard way, if you ask me.”

“Bah,” says Daly, “I made a person last night. I’m Dr. Frankenstein.”

“You sure look like it,” Jared laughs.

“Not the monster,” says Daly, “the guy who made him.”

“They got you on some kinda medicine?” says Jared. “We brought along some whiskey’ll shake it out.”

Daly waves his hand across his face like Jared done earlier. “Didja see that woman come to life last night?” he says, smiling like an idiot. “You should have seen it, Jared.”

Jared scratches his head.

“He’s trying to say it was all part of a plan.” I say it like I heard Daly say a million times before.

“Well,” Daly laughs, “maybe one I didn’t know about goin’ in.” He rubs the back of his head, squints and says, “But everything happens that way, you know. According to a plan. I’m just doin’ my part.”

“Well, that don’t make no sense,” I say, and open the Pocket Philosophers. “Look,” I point to the words to back me up: ‘it is characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.’”

“Well,” says Daly, “define desperate.”

“Aw, don’t start that again,” I say, and start flipping. “Here. ‘It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.’”

“I do,” Daly says. “Give it here.” He yanks the book from my hand and flips directly to a worn, ruffled page. “Listen,” he reads, “‘it is the duty of the mind alone, not the mind and body together, to know the truth.’ The body ain’t relevant here.”

“You demonstrated that last night,” I say.

“What I demonstrated is growth. Anyone can get mad. Hell, that’s easy. But to get mad at the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, in the right way—that’s not easy.”

“You talkin’ about you or her?” says Jared.

“She got mad as hell,” says Daly, a small smile grabbing hold of his face. “She’ll be better for it. She will. It’s good to know what you’re made of.”

“So you’re saying you just got a lot uglier so some woman you don’t even know can see what she’s made of?” I say.

Daly shrugs. “What are bodies?” he asks as he slaps the book shut and stares at the cover. “Tiny envelopes that can’t begin to hold the human spirit.”

Me and Jared look at each other—we done heard this envelope speech before.

“I’m too large for my envelope,” says Daly. “My body’s too small for my mind. Now and then I gotta break out.”

“You six foot four inches, what more you want?” asks Jared, but I suddenly know just what Daly means. That feeling that nobody ever really knows all a person has in him, all his history, all his feelings, all the things he can do that nobody knows about ‘less he turns himself inside out and makes ‘em look, ‘less he splits himself open. Sometimes a person just feels larger than life itself; sometimes you just need to break outta prison, cut ties with your own body.

“Folks need to be shook up just to see what they’re made of,” says Daly. “The world needs to be shook up.”

“Well, you’re doin’ your fair share,” says Jared.

“I cannot restrain my will.”

“Maybe you oughta restrain your drinkin’.”

Daly just laughs.

“You look tired,” I say. “Whiskey in one of your sweat socks in the drawer if you need it.”

“Thanks,” says Daly.

“Need anything?” says Jared. “You want we should call Hogan?”

“I guess,” Daly mumbles, the thought of Hogan probably ratcheting up the noise in his skull. “Look in on Trouble. There’s chicken and livers in the fridge.”

“Check,” I say. “Anything else?”

Daly smiles and says, “Rucky Beef.”

*

Jared and me make our way over to Pinky Tai’s, and Jared goes in to ask if they got any Lucky Beef. Maybe the woman pairs him up with Daly and maybe she don’t, but she says they ain’t got no Lucky Beef, disgusted-like, according to Jared. So I go in and ask how much it cost to fix the aquarium, or how much for a new one. Daly’s good that way—he always pays for what he broke. The woman nods at the tank and I see they put some clear caulk over the crack—the glass is sweating some and there’s a few drips on the carpet, but nothin’ to write home about.

“Your flend clazy,” she says to me.

“You’re preaching to the choir,” I say.

“We have no Rucky Beef.”

“I’m gettin’ that.”

“How ‘bout Sesame Beef, or Who-Nan Beef,” says Jared. “He’s so banged up he ain’t likely to know the difference.”

“Beef fleeza bloke,” says the woman, and the words just tumble around my brain. I look at Jared and I can tell he ain’t doing no better with ‘em. The woman shakes her head like we’re slow children. “No beef,” she says. “Chicken fleeza okay, seafood fleeza okay, beef fleeza bloke.” She don’t really look like a little woman no more; she’s standing straight up and giving us the business about them freezers.

“The beef freezer done broke,” says Jared. “They ain’t got no Lucky Beef.”

You can imagine by then I was mighty tired of hearing that. “Well, whaddya put in that Lucky Beef?” I ask.

“In-gledients?” she says.

“Yeah, like mushrooms and peppers and what all. Like if I was to make it myself.”

She thinks for a bit, then goes into the kitchen and leaves us standing there.

“She goin’ to get a translater,” says Jared.

“Ain’t nobody in there speak English,” I say.

Soon enough she come out the kitchen with some plastic bags full of vegetables. “Here,” she says as she shoves ‘em at me, “fie ninety-fie.”

I give her a ten and tell her to keep the change.

“You got ginga?” she says. “Sesame seed?”

I shrug.

She shakes her head and stomps off to the kitchen. She come out with more plastic bags, smaller ones. I offer to pay and she pushes my hand away.

“Now the question’s this,” I say. “How’m I supposed to cook it up?”

“What?”

“You know,” I say, holding up the bags. “How do I turn this into Lucky Beef?”

She slams her hand on the counter. “We no give out lecipe!”

“Okay, okay,” I say, nodding as I back out the door.

We drive to the Piggly Wiggly over in Truman to buy four big, lean Porterhouse steaks, and then we head for Daly’s. Trouble’s happy to see us, and she gets even happier when we throw her steak into a pan and it starts sizzling.

“All right,” I tell Jared, “you cut that meat into strips look just like the ones at the restaurant, and I’ll look through these books for directions.”

He takes a carving knife and goes to it while I flip through the Chinese cookbooks for Lucky Beef, or at least its next of kin. It don’t take long to find a dish that looks just like it, got the same vegetables and the sesame seeds and everything.

“Bingo,” I say, and pull a large skillet off the rack. “Says here to use Chinese rice wine. He got any of that?”

Jared fishes through the cupboards. “Got some sherry. They use that for cookin’, don’t they? Daly’ll like that.”

“Okay,” I say, “hand it over. And start smothering that beef with them seeds before I cook it up. Hold the fort on them vegetables,” I say. “They go in last.”

I flip Trouble’s steak once and take it out the pan ‘cause she likes it rare. I cut it up and put it in the china bowl Daly give her for her last birthday. At that moment, she’s one happy pup. Jared got that meat climbing with seeds when I heat up the sherry and oil in the skillet to near smoking.

“Send ‘er over,” I say, and Jared starts laying the strips in the pan like they dynamite sticks on a hot tin roof.

“We gotta make some a that rice goes underneath,” says Jared.

“Check,” I say, and fish a box out the cupboard. The directions are pretty clear, and I realize for the first time just how easy and relaxing cooking can be. I measure the water and rice and throw ‘em in a pot, then I shift the meat around a little.

After we get the beef about half cooked up we start throwing in the mushrooms, peppers, spices, the white disks size of quarters, some sugar and vinegar, even some garlic Daly had. We lay on the soy sauce and let it cook a little. In the meantime we eat some of the chicken and livers Daly got in the fridge so we won’t be tempted to eat what we’re cooking ‘cause it smells so good and we got a hunger to beat the smell outta skunk.

We open a couple a beers and Jared says, “We gotta call Hogan.”

“Tomorrow,” I say. “Don’t want to talk to the devil on Sunday.”

“He’s gonna flame.”

“He can go to hell.”

Hogan’s our foreman at the Brentwood Estates we’re building over in Easton County for rich folks don’t know what to do with their money. Daly actually got both me and Jared our jobs—got me on as apprentice bricklayer, Jared already knew what he was doing going in—‘cause he’s the union steward and he got say in such matters. I’m thinking about just the same thing when Jared says, “Think he’s still steamed about McCory?” That happens a lot, us thinking the same.

“If it ain’t McCory it’s someone else he’s hot for,” I say. “Hogan’s always thinking about someone.”

We were on overtime Saturday morning putting the final shakes on a foundation when McCory, a new kid on the job Hogan been riding like a mule, runs a CAT into the east wall of the house we just finished next door and Hogan flies off like a man from a cannon.

“You stupid son-of-a-bitch,” he yells at McCory, who’s sitting on that CAT with his mouth open, looking as if someone else just hit that wall. “Back it out,” Hogan yells, but McCory’s so shook up he forgets to put it in reverse and smacks the wall again. Then Hogan’s up on that CAT pulling him off by the shirt. Daly gets a gander and he’s between ‘em before I can ask God for assistance.

“You’re fired,” Hogan screams at McCory, and it’s all the kid can do to keep from crying. Then Hogan stomps off and Daly stomps after him.

“Hold on,” says Daly, all red in the face and looking like he needs to kill somethin’. “You just hold on.”

Hogan stops walking, turns to face Daly, and I ain’t never sure when this stuff happens if Hogan listens ‘cause he’s scared of Daly or ‘cause Daly’s the union steward or both.

“You’re not gonnafire this man,” says Daly, pointing to McCory, who’s standing off to the side sniffling. “He’s still in training. He messed up ‘cause you been pushin’ him to do the work of three guys since he started.” Daly gets up close to Hogan, puts his finger near Hogan’s eye and says, “It’s your fault he hit that wall.”

“I can’t afford mistakes,” yells Hogan. “His mistakes. He’s gone.”

“All right then. C’mon, fellas,” says Daly, waving his arm across the site as if to sweep us all up.

Jared drops a spade full of cement and climbs over the foundation wall, then Sam and Chevron wipe their hands on their aprons and leave the cement mixer, and Max and Ripperton climb down off their CATs and start walking, too. I take off my gloves and hat and set ‘em on the ground.

“What do you think you’re doin’?” yells Hogan. “What the hell do you think you’re doin’? We’re starin’ down a deadline here.”

“You take McCory back, we all come back,” says Daly. “You fire him and we all walk.”

Daly’s the best damn bricklayer in the county, maybe even the state, hell, maybe even the world, so Hogan knows what he’s losing. Of course Daly’s always up Hogan’s ass like a flaming hemorrhoid, so Hogan knows what he’s gaining, too.

“All right,” says Hogan, all red in the face, “but no one leaves till that wall is fixed, and I’m not payin’ anyone past six.”

“Fair enough,” says Daly ‘cause he saw the same thing I did two seconds after McCory hit it—that there was only surface damage. We could grind it down, replace a few bricks. “Something else,” says Daly, and here Hogan starts steaming ‘cause he knows Daly don’t give somethin’ for nothin’.

“What!” yells Hogan, wiping his forehead with a stiff hand.

“We’re all working towards improvement, not perfection,” says Daly. “Every man here gets respect. You touch one a these guys again, there’s gonna be hell to pay.” Daly’s shaking mad, almost as if he hates Hogan even more for backing down, for not hitting him, for not giving Daly an excuse to break outta his envelope.

Hogan nods and stomps off toward the trailer, the one where Daly spray painted Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains across the side, and Daly tells McCory to grab a spade and work alongside Jared. “Wendall,” he says to me, “let’s you and me fix that wall. Let’s set a record.”

We finish the wall and the foundation before six, and that makes Hogan none too happy, so we’re feeling like we just won the war when we get to the Apple Seed and settle in for a few drinks. Thirteen whiskeys later Jared starts whining about being hungry, and you know the rest. Looking back, maybe Daly was still mad at Hogan when he crashed into that aquarium. Or maybe he was mad at himself.

“Hogan ain’t mad at McCory,” says Jared. “He mad at Daly but ain’t a thing he can do about it but pick on the men. That’s how he gets to Daly.”

“Someday Daly’s gonna kill him.”

“Ain’t a man on the site turn him in.”

The whole mill smells of ginger and garlic when we scoop the Lucky Beef into a plastic bowl and the rice into another one. When we get to the hospital Daly’s awake, and the angel of mercy tells us the doctor gave him near a double dose of pain killers but it didn’t knock him out.

“You look like hell,” Daly says to me, and I realize I ain’t slept in two days.

“Well, you’re the authority on that,” I say.

Jared takes the bowls out the bag, then sets ‘em on Daly’s tray.

“You got your rice and you got your Lucky Beef,” he says as if Daly’s blind.

Daly stares at the bowls like they’re full of diamonds. “Where did you get it?”

Jared starts in on a ten-hour story and I just interrupt. “It wasn’t no trouble,” I say. “We cooked it up real easy and we can do it again whenever we want. I don’t expect that at the present we’re welcome at Pinky Tai’s, anyway.”

“Do not content yourselves with the opinions of others,” Daly says as if we’re the ones just tried to poke our heads through a glass wall without the aid of equipment.

Daly’s eating so fast the sparks are flying from his utensils. “This is the best Lucky Beef I ever been exposed to,” he says, and Jared says thank you like I was a piece of dust in the whole matter. Daly stops eating to look at us and then says, “You fellas have the souls of saints, do you know that?”

Well, I don’t see myself as no saint, and I sure don’t see Jared as one, so I let it drop and blame it on the medication. He sees he made us uncomfortable, so he changes the subject.

“Call Hogan?” he says.

“Yep,” I answer without looking at Jared. “Said you had an accident and he said accidents happen. Get back when you can.”

Daly don’t appear to be surprised by this, but that could also be the pills playing with

him. “You tell him I’ll be back before anyone expects me,” he says. “That’ll keep him on ice.”

Then I decide to ask something I been wanting to for years, thinking maybe the drugs’ll make him honest. “Daly,” I say, “you trying to kill yourself?”

He puts down his fork and knife real slow, then looks at me. “Is that what you think?”

Jared looks at the floor and I realize he’s been thinking the same thing.

“Seems mighty coincidental, you putting yourself in per-carious situations,” I say. “Fighting, carrying on, slamming your head into solid objects and such. Do you wanna die? ‘Cause if you do I can arrange it nice and neat. I ain’t gonna watch you kill yourself inch by inch.”

Daly laughs, but there’s tears in his eyes and now I’m sorry I asked.

“I like living more than dying,” he says. “I do a little of both every day, but the scale’s still tipped on the living side.”

He starts eating again, but now Jared takes on.

“I ain’t sayin’ it does a good job or nothin’, I agree with you there,” he says, “but you still need your envelope, Daly. You gotta stop.”

Daly pulls the Pocket Philosophers from under the tray and flips to the middle. “Read it,” he says to me. “The underlined part.”

“To give up the task of reforming society is to give up one’s responsibility as a free man.” I shake my head. “That’s all well and good,” I say, “but what about your responsibility to yourself?”

“And to us?” says Jared, which comes as a surprise ‘cause I been thinking the same thing.

“You are my brothers,” says Daly, and then he starts blubbering to beat the band. This’ll be our secret forever ‘cause it wasn’t Daly crying at all but the painkillers acting on him. Then he says, “But know that if you wanna change things, you have to catch the eye of the world, you have to make a fuss.”

“Well,” I say, “we’re just gonna hafta come up with a better way to make a fuss.”

Daly thinks about this for a long time. “We can do that,” he says quietly. Then he passes out.

I stare at Daly, the soy sauce on his chin, his fist curled into a tight knot, and I believe he wants to change the world one person at a time, to take on his fair share of reforming society. But when I see the Pocket Philosophers open on the tray, the stitches crawling up his face like a tiny railroad track, the union jacket thrown over a chair, I know that Daly is also looking for something else, looking to find in me, in Jared, in Hogan, in rescuing dogs and in lecturing locals, in bar fights and in aquarium glass, what he is inside, how far he’ll go, what, exactly, he’s made of.

­­­___

Dorene O’Brien’s work has appeared in the Connecticut Review, Carve Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Clackamas Literary Review, New Millennium Writings, Detroit Noir and others.  She has won the Red Rock Review’s Mark Twain Award for Short Fiction, the New Millennium Fiction Award, and the Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award.  She has also won the international Bridport Prize and has received a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.  Her short story collection, Voices of the Lost and Found, won the National Best Book Award in 2008.  You can visit her website at: www.doreneobrien.com.